The lead artist of Test cricket’s ‘blockathon,’ the go to man in the South African squad and more importantly the calmest and the most elegant cricketer on the field, Hashim Amla, has been the strength of the Proteas’ top-order in both ODIs and Tests. He is into his 13th year of international cricket career and is no less than a legend in the South Africa’s current side. The master of composed cover drivers and the stylish leg-side smooth flicks is the highest run-scorer in Tests amongst the current South African players and overall, he is third, behind Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith. He has numbers backing him in both the formats and hence he became the first batsman in 2013, since Ricky Ponting, to hold the No. 1 rank in both Tests and ODIs.
Amla has everything in him that is required to keep himself and the team high on spirits. He has been ruling at the crucial No. 3 spot forever now in the Proteas side. Whenever an opener fails, there is not much panic as the dismissal brings their best and most trusted batsman at the crease. Owing to this belief, he was chosen ahead of AB de Villiers as Smith’s successor in the longest format. In 2014, Amla took over a South African Test side that was undergoing a transition. And along with helping his side, he had vowed to not allow the responsibility affect his batting. “I am positive that it won’t affect my batting and I hope it doesn’t. I will try and score as many if not more runs.”
There has been a pattern in Amla’s Test career, at least in the recent times. His performance has been directly proportional to South Africa’s result in a Test.
Until Amla is doing well, South Africa’s Test graph keeps going upwards. Despite a poor 2015, South Africa ended 2015 as No. 1 ranked Test side. The ICC Test Mace is presented on the basis of the team’s performance in the last three years; hence Amla was certainly among the top performers for South Africa in that period. Apart from a bad average of 22.81 in 2015, he notched up 633 runs in eight Tests in 2013 and 700 runs in eight Tests in 2014.
His bad patch began in 2015 and that led to the downfall of South Africa too. In December 2015, England toured South Africa for a four-Test series. In Durban, he registered scores of 12 and 7 and hence the hosts opened the series with a loss. By then, Amla had realised that it was time for him to get back to concentrating on just his batting and get back o the track in terms of his form, that was shaken at that time. Ahead of the second Test at Cape Town, he announced that he would retire at the end of the Test.
Only the announcement worked for Amla and South Africa. Now that he was relatively lighter as he would no longer carry the team’s responsibility on his shoulders, his old game returned. He ended his last Test as South Africa’s captain with an incredible double century and helped South Africa to draw the match. In Johannesburg, he failed yet again and there were no surprises when the hosts ended on the losing side. Two days later when the final Test commenced at Centurion, Amla seemed refreshed which was a good sign for South Africa. He scored a century and missed another by four runs and South Africa won the match. Although they lost the series 1-2, their chief player appeared back on the track.
Amla then scored a couple of half-centuries in the drawn two-Test series against New Zealand. From there on, Amla’s poor run returned to haunt him. His downfall embarked on their tour of Australia later in 2016. Considering other players like Faf du Plessis and Temba Bavuma had stepped up to score runs for South Africa, Amla’s poor show did not affect South Africa’s fate as they went on to record their second consecutive Test series victory on the Australian soils. Meanwhile, Amla returned home only with 98 runs from three Tests. That was followed by nine consecutive innings without a Test half-century. The streak finally came to an end in the final Test of the three-Test series against Sri Lanka in Johannesburg when Amla scored his 26th Test hundred.
The subsequent five innings were again against him without reaching a fifty. South Africa then toured to England for a four-Test series with the opening match being played at the Lord’s. Amla’s poor scores of 11 and 29, once again affected his side’s morale and result, as they began their tour with a loss. Amla, fighting against his wobbling form, was the lead run-scorer with scores of 78 and 87 in the second Test. He inspired his side, who went on to produce a top-class performance, only to return to the series as they squared the series 1-1 at Nottingham.
The saddest sight of the series for the Proteas was reserved for the third Test when Amla faced England’s debutant Toby Roland-Jones. The 105-Test experienced veteran did not last for more than 52 balls against the Middlesex fast bowler as the latter dismissed Amla cheaply on both the occasions in the London Test. In South Africa’s first innings, Amla, who was beaten by a snorting ball, slightly flicked that landed into the gloves of the keeper. In the second innings, Amla looked at his usual best; he tried to defend everything he had played; he had scored just five runs from 36 balls before he faced Toby’s wicket-taking delivery.
With 1-2 down in the four-Test series, South Africa will be desperate to watch Amla get back to his form at the top. With the English bowlers at the ‘ruthless-mode’ at the moment, they need the ‘Blockathon’ champ to do what he is best at – hold his side tightly on the top; lay a foundation which will raise the morale of the entire team and bolster them to put in a fight with an aim to draw the series.