Batting made over easy

2013-09-15 14:00

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SA’s hopes for summer success lie with Hashim Amla, writes Khanyiso Tswhaku

The year 2004 seems a very long time ago. That’s when Steve Harmison reduced Hashim Amla to a walking wicket. Then at number six, he was the perceived weakest link in the already brittle South African batting line-up.

Amla was a young Dolphins captain with a batting arc that came down from the direction of gully. He also had an inability to deal with the short ball.

But in 2004, England had a bowling attack that was a tad too hot to handle.

England’s then four-man pace attack of Harmison, Simon Jones, Andrew Flintoff and the about-to-retire Matthew Hoggard laid waste to anything before them.

Their dismembering of South Africa’s batsmen, except for Jacques Kallis, was a foreboding of what was going to happen to Australia later in 2005.

With two subsequently successful tours of England, plus numerous winning contributions away from home, Amla has now established himself as the most prized Proteas wicket.

With a busy summer schedule, it would be to South Africa’s benefit that he doesn’t endure the kind of slump that befell Matt Prior, who was also once voted England’s cricketer of the year.

Following a big two years, his award coincided with a loss of form that was fortunately overshadowed by the imperious Ian Bell, whose three centuries and 562 runs were the difference between England winning the Ashes 3-0 and giving Australia a share of the spoils. Prior averaged a puny 19 from nine innings, totalling 133 runs.

Amla walked away with four awards this year, including the coveted Cricketer of the Year at the Cricket SA awards on Monday evening.

It was fair reward, as the bulk of his runs either rescued the Proteas or won games last year.

This has almost always been the case, aside from two occasions: Kolkata in 2010 and Johannesburg in 2012, when the team could not come to the party after he scored centuries.

Noticeable adjustments to Amla’s game have been his avoidance of the short ball, his less pronounced backlift and less shuffling at the crease.

It gives him more time to see the ball and the mark of most world-class batsmen is keeping still until the ball is released.

His five 150-plus scores are indicative of his unabated appetite for runs and timeless concentration. Making 300 runs in a test match needs oodles of both facets.

Every batsman has a slight weakness that is often ruthlessly exposed and, like any number three, Amla’s jittery starts will always keep bowlers interested.

There’s also an inability to replicate centuries after opening tests, but nine third- and fourth-innings centuries mark him out as an understated iceman.

If ever there was a batsman ready to take on Jacques Kallis’ mantle when the Cape Cobras’ strongman calls it a day, Amla is already on his way to filling those boots.

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