Worrying signs from Oz

2014-11-22 00:00

HASHIM Amla is one of the finest batsmen, in this or any other era, to have played for South Africa. In the first two One-Day matches, however, he contrived to play a couple of shots that ­belied his reputation. That he got out both times for low scores must surely have attracted some attention from his coach but one wonders how Russell ­Domingo handled the matter, if at all.

Amla is such an intelligent and thoughtful cricketer that he, above anyone else, would have known that he had let the team down so it probably was unnecessary for Domingo to have said anything to him. A batsman does not compile the sort of record owned by Amla without the possession of a large dollop of self awareness. Still it raises the question of when, if ever, the coach should “have a word” with one of his most senior players.

Most times, I think, that the best thing a coach can say in such circumstances is to ask the player to treat each innings as if it was the very first that he was going to play for his country. This simple piece of advice reminds his charge that success at the crease requires the same high level of concentration and determination irrespective of how many runs he has previously made.

At the beginning of Amla’s record-breaking 311 not out made against ­England, which is probably the most significant match-winning innings ever played for South Africa, he had to cope with a difficult situation when failure would have had serious consequences for his team. Amla then mustered all the concentration for which he has become famous and battled through until ­batting came easier. By the end of that innings, he could have played the Eng­land bowling with the edge of his bat.

In the second One-Day match, the Proteas nearly made a mess of chasing a moderate total. It was the sort of situation in which Amla should have set himself to bat for 30 overs. Had he done so, victory would have ensued without any of the dressing room palpitations, which will be increased tenfold at next year’s World Cup.

The point is this — if the Proteas are to succeed next year, where all their World Cup predecessors have failed, Amla will have to play a key role in all the important matches. The batting resources of the team are not such that he can afford to be at anything but his most resolute.

However, he showed his class with a well constructed century in the third match, albeit in a losing cause.

The upside of Amla’s early failures was that they gave David Miller the chance to secure his place in the One-Day team with a couple of mature performances. Of all the younger players, Miller is the one who looks most likely to produce a match-winning performance with the bat despite a certain frailty against short-pitched bowling.

A bigger worry for the team has been the batting of Quinton de Kock, who has looked uncomfortable against Australia’s big pace men. Once things start to go wrong for a batsman Down Under it is often difficult for him to find form. The little fellow has exceeded expectations behind the stumps where he has taken some brilliant catches but he does need some runs to take the pressure off the middle-order batsmen.

The trouble with De Kock’s batting is that he has that predominant bottom hand grip that seems to be typical of so many Kind Edward School batsmen. This grip often results in a less than straight bat, which becomes a problem on fast bouncy pitches of the kind found in Australia. Graeme Smith had a ­similar grip but being a much taller man than De Kock he was able to get away more easily with a technical deficiency that nevertheless caused him many early dismissals in his career.

There really is no substitute for technical correctness in cricket. De Kock has done particularly well since he came into the Proteas team but he looks the kind of player who would do well to spend a few years honing his game in county cricket if a position there opened for him. He has no time to effect any changes to his batting before the World Cup so it is important for him and the team that he finds some form with the bat in the remaining matches of this series. Having said all that, one should recognise that it is asking a lot of De Kock to open the batting after spending three-and-a-half hours without a break behind the stumps.

What the first two games did show was just how much the team are missing the all round skills of JP Duminy and how important it is that he reports fit for duty well before the World Cup starts. I just hope that, in his absence, those responsible for selection do not neglect Kyle Abbot in their quest for a series win against Australia.

Abbot may well be the best, if not only, “death” bowler in the squad. It seems unwise to sacrifice him at this stage in the search for deeper batting particularly when Behardien, the current beneficiary of this strategy, has been such a disappointment with the bat over a long time.

The third match on a slowish Canberra pitch saw improved performances from De Kock and Amla but illustrated the dilemma that the Proteas have Down Under even with Duminy in the team. On pitches that favour our attack the batting is not quite good enough whereas, on pitches that suit the batsmen, the bowling falls short.

Once again the bizarre notion that number five is the best place for AB de Villiers to bat attracted further comment from cricket’s most respected pundits. It seems that on this topic the national selectors are the only soldiers in step.

There really is no substitute for technical correctness in cricket. De Kock has done particularly well since he came into the Proteas team but he looks the kind of player that would do well to spend a few years honing his game in county cricket if a position there opened for him.

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