Cape Town – The Proteas’ Test batting is
jittery enough these days anyway, but two critical factors make them seem that
bit more vulnerable as they enter Friday’s opening clash of the season with New
Zealand at Kingsmead.
One is the decidedly rare absence from
their five-day plans of injured regular captain and withering stroke-player AB
South Africa are still slowly, sometimes
painfully coming to terms with the retirements of such heavyweights of the
format like Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith, but now the heavily-fallen, once
premier side on the planet tackle the Black Caps in a two-Test series also
minus De Villiers’ formidable statistical clout – 106 Tests and 8,074 runs at
an average of just over 50.
Enter, then, the Hashim Amla factor: the
other truly proven, world-class accumulator in the SA arsenal naturally carries
a particularly hefty weight of responsibility in this short series.
Yet the portents for the vastly experienced
right-hander helping the Proteas get their “summer” off to a rip-roaring start in
the city of his birth aren’t exactly wonderful.
A breaker of bowlers’ hearts in numerous
corners of the world for much of his 12-year Test career so far, “The
Incredible Hash” has found runs at Kingsmead peculiarly hard to come by.
Amla sports a sublime average of 51.45 over
the course of his 92 Tests, and 25 centuries, but Durban specifically sees his
average plummet to 18.62 from nine appearances in the prestigious format there.
The mere 298 runs he has managed at the
ground (highest score 69 against West Indies, 2007/08) don’t even measure up to
the sum of runs he achieved in one especially memorable solitary knock – the
unbeaten triple-century he recorded against England at the peak of the Proteas’
powers against England at The Oval in 2012.
What makes his Kingsmead average look even
more glaringly wretched is the fact that he has blossomed at just about every
other one of South Africa’s major Test centres.
Amla boasts 1,143 runs at 87.92 at
Centurion (scene of the next Test against the Kiwis, so that’s a comfort),
1,208 runs at 50.33 at Newlands, 742 runs at 49.46 at the Wanderers, and 328
runs at 46.85 at St George’s Park.
In three of those nine Tests he’s sampled
in Durban, three have seen him dismissed in single figures twice, including
very nearly getting a dreaded “pair” in both of his first two appearances at
the venue -- he registered one and nought against England in November 2004 and
the very same sequence against India in December 2006, even if his fortunes
have subsequently improved to some degree.
This encounter with the Black Caps seems a
perfectly-timed opportunity for him to set things right at Kingsmead, doesn’t
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing