PE Test: Is this Hash’s swansong?

2019-02-18 14:13
Hashim Amla
Hashim Amla (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - It’s an issue many may prefer to tiptoe around.

But it is no longer an unreasonable question to ask: might Thursday’s now redemptive-themed second Test against Sri Lanka at St George’s Park turn out to be the great Hashim Amla’s last - his 124th - for the Proteas?

There are increasingly compelling reasons for believing this could be the case.

Although he has served no specific public notice of his international plans beyond the looming World Cup in England and Wales, that is the obvious enough type of occasion for a long-serving cricketer of his amazing record and calibre to treat as a swansong: many illustrious players before him have used the 50-overs jamboree, staged every four years, for that purpose.

Amla will have turned 36, too, by the time the event comes along in late May - he is a family man who has been on the draining, globe-trotting circuit in distinguished service of his country (often across all three formats) since as far back as 2004.

Following the series-ending clash with the ‘Lankans, which the Proteas have to win just to share the spoils after the Kusal Perera-inspired upset in Durban, South Africa play no further Test cricket until well after CWC 2019.

That will be their taxing first assignment in the inaugural ICC World Test Championship, a three-Test series away to currently planet-leading India in October.

It seems like the dawning of a new era in so many ways, and whether Amla will even desire to be part of it is uncertain at this point.

The overwhelming majority of Proteas enthusiasts will be wishing very fervently that the once-imperious right-hander gets to retire on his own terms, as he so richly deserves ... but his markedly declining form at both Test and one-day international level in the past year or more is also becoming problematic to the point that his status as a senior figure in the team is now more tenuous than it has been at any stage of his multi-format career for South Africa.

Once possibly earmarked for sublime, completed career batting averages in the lower- to mid-50s in both Tests and ODIs, he has dipped southward a little depressingly in both: he currently stands at 46.95 in the former and 49.74 in the latter.

In a frontline batting order that is collectively, worryingly vulnerable, Amla failed to fire significantly again in the nail-biting one-wicket reverse to the Sri Lankans at Kingsmead, being dismissed for 3 and 16.

The time is getting closer - some will argue passionately it has already arrived - for the Proteas brains trust to act decisively in selection terms to try to restore higher standards at and near the top of the order, although, in Amla’s specific defence, his second-last Test saw him register key, fighting knocks of 41 and 71 in the third Test against Pakistan at the Wanderers.

He deserves to play in Port Elizabeth purely on those grounds, and even before you begin to weigh up the potential effect of sacrificing his enormous know-how at this fragile time.

But if he doesn’t weigh in with meaningful runs at St George’s Park, it could have the effect of persuading him even more profoundly that it may be time to call it quits in the Test arena: either that or coax the national selectors into believing that new blood will be required at his expense ahead of the novel Test Championship.

The thought of travelling to India later in the year without Amla is a pretty scary one, just based on what we all know he CAN do when he is consistently on top of his game.

Although he was among the many South African batsmen to have a relative shocker on the prior Test tour there in 2015, when controversial, lotto-like dustbowls were the order of the day, he has performed phenomenally there before.

Who could ever forget his 2010 series, where his only three innings produced 253 not out at Nagpur and 114 and 123 not out at Kolkata?

But anything even vaguely near that astonishing consistency hasn’t been notably apparent from Amla for a long time: the period has stretched to 27 innings now since his last Test century (against Bangladesh at Bloemfontein) while his last against a fellow member of the “big four” nations came against England as far back as January 2016 at Centurion.

He is at very least flirting with the axe although, on the positive side, he traditionally fares rather better at St George’s Park (average 40.33) than he does at Kingsmead, where his figure slid even further over the last few days to 18.00.

But if you are locally-based and count yourself among the ranks of the well-subscribed Hashim Amla Appreciation Society, it might well be worth turning out in the Friendly City to see him take guard once or twice against Sri Lanka and earnestly will him on to success.

At least at Test level, there may be few - or increasingly likelier no - further opportunities.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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