Rising threat to mighty Hash's 'VIP' status

2019-02-05 14:28
Hashim Amla
Hashim Amla (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Miss out on the World Cup entirely? A massively unlikely event, I still fancy.

The abundant experience of Hashim Amla, just for starters, should ensure that he stays close to front of mind in the selectors’ plans both for the last bilateral series ahead of UK-staged CWC 2019 - five ODIs against Sri Lanka on our soil from early March - and then the major global event itself from late May.

South Africa instantly sacrificed a similar slab of street wisdom only a few months back when AB de Villiers retired (time is getting tight now for that miracle comeback understandably so desired by many, isn't it?), and Amla’s 174-cap, outstanding pedigree in the format remains a vital balancer in so many respects.

He has graced two prior World Cups, scoring 639 runs between them in 15 knocks at an average of almost 43, and his "been there, done that" sort of status is important when you consider that the 15-strong Proteas squad for England is likely to feature several first-timers at the tournament.

Amla’s opening partnership with ever-brazen Quinton de Kock - they are a fine foil for each other, and not only because of the right-left aspect - is among the most productive ever in ODIs, into the bargain.

So it may require a truly abject slump against the currently modest Sri Lankans for Amla, who turns 36 at the end of March, to fail to earn a ticket at all to this World Cup.

But there is a swelling threat, I believe it is fair to say, to his wonderfully long-time status as a staple pick in key matches.

The passage of time can be cruel to older cricketers, and Amla has been on a fairly enduring downward curve for success rate with the bat across the formats - though admittedly from some rare, sublime statistical highs - and, no less worryingly, as a fielder.

He has never been a whippet in the field and that is hardly going to improve at his advanced age, but he has also been guilty of spilling some (usually close-to-the-wicket) catches recently during Pakistan’s multi-format visit.

Amla’s relative lack of mobility is something that must at least be touched on by the brains trust from time to time, especially as the Proteas' frontline white-ball spinner, Imran Tahir, will be an especially advanced 40 by the time the World Cup begins (though the effervescent character does everything possible to disguise the drawback in the field) and there are a few other well-established thirtysomethings in SA's current arsenal.

Overwhelmingly Amla's major trade, of course, remains his top-order batting, and the once near-unfailing, highly composed player at least stabilised his form during the five-match ODI series against Pakistan, won 3-2 by the hosts.

That is reflected in his statistical return of 214 runs at 53.50 from five innings, although around half those runs came through a century in Port Elizabeth (defeat for SA, in game one) that earned some condemnation from pundits, rightly or wrongly, for its relatively conservative and even pacing.

There is also little luxury for him to bask in the good weight of those figures due to two, almost concurrent hallmarks in the last two or three weeks: the rise and rise of younger, seemingly cool-headed, ambitious and similarly top-three-terrain stroke-players Reeza Hendricks and Rassie van der Dussen.

Just based on their body language, sense of authority and returns at the crease in white-ball internationals (either ODI or Twenty20) of late, both of Hendricks (29) and Van der Dussen (30 on Thursday) are gluing themselves ever more firmly into the World Cup squad picture.

That duo presently seem no less likely than the veteran Amla to cash in, just ahead of CWC 2019, on what may well be a weary, slightly shell-shocked Sri Lankan bowling line-up on our shores considering the woes of some of them in a just-completed Test series roasting in Australia.

All going to plan, I would suggest this remains the likeliest Proteas top six to begin the World Cup with: Amla, De Kock, Hendricks, Du Plessis, Miller, Duminy.

But there is also a mounting chance it could instead, by then, be something like the following: Hendricks, De Kock, Van der Dussen, Du Plessis, Miller, Duminy.

No doubt the proud, grand master who is HM Amla is pretty resistant to the latter scenario (and could also spiritedly remind, if he wished to, of his credentials in English conditions, which can fluctuate greatly from one day or week to the next).

But he may know, nevertheless, he’ll have to keep a suitably firm personal foot on the gas from here to sidestep its coming to fruition, and a bib becoming more consistently pinned to his chest than he is accustomed to at the World Cup.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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