As the Proteas jetted off to Christchurch earlier this week to prepare for their first World Cup warm-up match against Sri Lanka tomorrow, they would have felt buoyed by their recent run of form.
We’ve seen some spectacular performances from them in the past month, but legend Herschelle Gibbs made it clear this week he was not so convinced.
“I don’t know if beating West Indies so badly in the ODI series was a good thing, because they weren’t tested at all. For instance, batsmen numbers 7 to 11 need to get some batting time.”
A healthy dose of realism often helps bring high hopes down a wicket or two.
Gibbs is, of course, quite correct in his criticism. Russell Domingo’s men will face far sterner challenges in the coming weeks – and we have no indication of how they’ll cope.
But what Gibbs didn’t account for, perhaps, was what some people have called the Great Wall of South Africa, Hashim Amla, no one’s beard but his own. If the Proteas are to mount a challenge for the cup, he is the linchpin around which the campaign will be built.
Amla, in the four ODI matches he played against the West Indies in the recent series, scored an imperious 413 runs at an average of more than 200. In doing so, he broke his own record of 402 for the most runs scored by a South African in a bilateral series. In the preceding test series, he had scored 342 runs at an average of 114.
Sure, cricket is a numbers game and records get broken all the time, but no one breaks them quite as often, or as masterfully, as Hash. In the ODI against the West Indies at Newlands, with his unassuming 66, he became the fastest batsman to notch 5?000 runs in the one-day format, which becomes all the more impressive when you consider he was also the fastest to make it to 2?000, 3?000 and 4?000.
He took just 101 games to get to the milestone – 13 fewer than the great West Indies batsman Sir Viv Richards and India’s Virat Kohli, who previously held the record jointly.
The point of this isn’t simply to blow Hash’s horn. He has a legion of fans who’d be more than willing to do that, especially if he performs down under, as he’s wont to do.
He refused to blow his own horn even when he broke Sir Viv’s record to 4?000 runs back in December 2013, saying he felt embarrassed to have surpassed “the great original batsman”. Shucks.
He happens to be the nicest guy ever to occupy the crease, but that’s beside the point. What South African supporters should draw hope from is that he goes into a tournament with an average of 56 and a strike rate of almost 90.
Those numbers speak for themselves, and not in a nice way to opposition bowlers.
Gibbs is hardly a stranger to hash, as we found out in 2001 when news broke of his on-tour antics in Antigua. He obviously knows that if Amla manages to stay at the crease and keep the run rate ticking over while calming the batsmen opposite him, it’s likely he’ll allow them to shine – and the rest should go according to plan.
But perhaps Gibbs, once a Great Wall of the top order himself, has experienced enough World Cup disappointment to know that after a high ... there’s always a comedown.