Cape Town – When you are a marvellously dominating player of
the calibre of Hashim Amla or AB de Villiers, your instincts are probably to
want to just keep on ... well, dominating.
But as much as this duo are astonishingly talented batsmen at
the peak of their powers and wisdom – something that bodes increasingly well
for the fast-approaching World Cup – they are special assets, and as such need the
most prudent of “maintenance”.
It is great from a Proteas point of view that the pair (Amla
aged 31 and De Villiers due to hit that landmark next month) have had such blistering
summers across the board against the touring West Indies – plus keep sending
out reminders of how they relish batting in tandem.
Frankly, it is a trend that doesn’t look hugely likely to
subside for the remainder of the five-match one-day international series which
reaches its middle point, and South Africa already a powerful 2-0 to the good,
in East London on Wednesday (13:30 start).
Captain De Villiers comes off a record-obliterating 149 off
44 balls at the Wanderers, to go with his prior 81 at Kingsmead, whilst Amla notched
a personal best 153 not out in the Bullring, after amassing 66 – and falling to
a run out – in Durban.
Throw in the big Test numbers from just a wee bit earlier: De
Villiers boasted knocks of 148 at Newlands and 152 at Centurion, whilst Amla,
the five-day skipper, amassed more than 100 runs across two knocks at Newlands
and landed a double-century (208) at SuperSport Park.
Don’t get too wrapped up in one of those “it’s only the
Windies” type of arguments: the best batsmen cash in wherever and whenever they
can, and it is not as though both men haven’t posted juggernaut scores against appreciably
stronger foes as well.
And if you want to talk general cricketing “greatness”, then
there are formidable cases for saying both De Villiers and Amla have got there
already: after roughly a decade each in the international arena, their combined
Test and ODI averages are both comfortably over the 100-mark.
Amla’s Test average is 52.09 and ODI figure 54.94; De
Villiers sports 52.09 and 52.39 respectively.
Just taking two random, recently-retired legends of the
modern game out of my head for comparison, Sachin Tendulkar averaged 53.78 and
44.83, and Jacques Kallis 55.37 and 44.36.
But back to the present, and South Africa’s remaining run-up
to the all-important World Cup: is it beneficial for their two most heavyweight
of batsmen for the global event to keep on – if that is what indeed transpires
– flogging a West Indies bowling attack that so glaringly lacks a cutting edge?
Even the very best of batsmen have gone through spells where
they have been so prolific at the crease, while perhaps unknowingly amassing simultaneous
mental and physical wear and tear, that a speed wobble occurs, and their
effectiveness just dips for a while.
In short, Amla and De Villiers are so vital to the Proteas’
quest for that elusive, maiden CWC title that a “correction” to their currently
riotous returns would be seriously unwelcome at the tournament itself.
To use a culinary analogy, they are supping so well at this
stage of the summer. They must not fall prey to over-eating; there must be room
left for some hunger in Australasia.
No one doubts the extraordinary stamina these players
possess: De Villiers so often makes major runs whilst saddled at the same time
with the cares of leadership and wicketkeeping, for goodness’ sake.
Let’s not forget that on Sunday, too, Amla batted the entire
duration of the South African innings in Highveld conditions (four minutes shy
of four hours) for his typically anchoring knock.
But those are very reasons why I believe the SA cause is
best served by perhaps fielding both in-form figures again at Buffalo Park, in
a bid to make safe the series at 3-0, and then for Amla and De Villiers to take
an alternate game off as the hostilities conclude with hoped-for dead rubbers
in Port Elizabeth and Centurion.
It might be no bad thing, for instance, under those
circumstances if the Proteas almost deliberately challenge themselves by putting
out XIs that are “batting light” to ensure that various other front-liners, who
have been under little pressure because of the sustained Amla-De Villiers
excellence, are required to step up – a useful practice exercise of sorts with
the World Cup in mind.
It could also provide an opportunity for at least two
players wholly inactive in the West Indies ODI series up to now, Wayne Parnell
and Aaron Phangiso, to get necessary game-time.
South Africa emphatically ticked one key “reserve” box in
their World Cup plans at the Wanderers when Rilee Rossouw came to light with an
increasingly assertive, confidence-boosting century on Sunday.
Let’s see more of that kind of stuff as soon as possible,
*Follow our chief
writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing