Faf finally budges on opening dilemma

Hashim Amla (Gallo Images)
Hashim Amla (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Over the past three weeks Proteas captain Faf du Plessis has been asked one particular question numerous times: Is there room in the starting XI for both Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla? 

It has been the biggest talking point in the build-up to South Africa's ICC World Twenty20 in India this month. 

After confirming that AB de Villiers would open the batting at the tournament, Du Plessis and the rest of the Proteas brains trust then suggested that one of Amla or De Kock would open alongside De Villiers while the other would miss out. 

It was a scenario that was difficult to grasp, and the possibility of Amla sitting out while a Rilee Rossouw or Farhaan Behardien was picked bordered on the ludicrous. 

With De Kock having been backed for the first two T20Is against Australia and having shown the devastating hitting form that makes him so dangerous, it appeared increasingly likely that Amla would be the player to miss out. 

But that all changed on Wednesday night when Amla carded a career-best 97* off 62 balls, beating his previous career-best of 69* (38) which he had scored just an innings ago against England. 

Amla is hard to ignore, but an in-form Amla is impossible to ignore. 

And now, for the first time, Du Plessis has leaned towards conceding that he may have to make room for De Villiers, De Kock and Amla in his top-order.

He perhaps summed it up best when asked if he was any closer to settling on his combinations. 

"Further away," he joked after Wednesday's six-wicket loss to Australia.

The Amla knock has thrown a cat among the pigeons, and now the skipper is entertaining the idea of doing some re-shuffling. 

"If the form allows it, yes," was his response when asked if all three 'openers' could play in the same side.

"Obviously Hashim is in form so you have to look at that, Quinny is playing well.

"If you find that there is less form in the middle order then you have to try, I suppose, make a plan to fill that gap.

"We’ve got two more games … form is everything for me, in a short World Cup like it is. Yes, there is space but in the next two games we will see who is in the best form."

The Proteas play two warm-up games - against India and a yet-to-be-determined side - before their tournament opener against England on March 18, and those matches will allow for some final experimentation and decision-making. 

"For me it’s about form … it’s not about players or positions, it’s about whose in the best form and then you pick your positions," said Du Plessis.

If form is the measure, then Amla is guaranteed a place. 

The pedigree of the man has never been questioned, but the concerns with Amla in the T20 format would have been evident to cynical eyes on Wednesday.

Having taken advantage of the power-play - SA were 68/1 after six overs - Amla and the Proteas then lost their momentum in the middle overs. 

Granted, that fault probably falls more on the shoulders of Rossouw, who faced 21 balls for his 16. 

Amla was simply devastating in the power-play, and by the end of the first six overs he was 41* (21). 

Because of his excellent shot-making ability, he can clear the field with ease in the opening overs and he finds the fence comfortably against the new ball.

But once the field retreated, the runs dried up for Amla and he struggled to clear the ropes. 

In the last 14 overs, Amla scored 56* off 41 balls.

That is still a healthy enough strike-rate (136.5), but is it enough when the Proteas are looking to set a score nearing 200, which is likely to be the case more often than not in India? 

De Kock and De Villiers, meanwhile, have no problem clearing the fence.

There is no way that either of those players would be left stranded three runs short of a century if they batted for 20 overs, and that is precisely the reason they look such attractive options at the top of the order. 

"I thought we were 10 or 15 runs short," said Du Plessis. 

"When you do get a flying start as a team you're in a position to press a little harder.

"We possibly lost 10 runs in that middle period ... that's probably the difference between winning and losing in the end."

There are some big characters in this Proteas leadership group, but there are surely none brave enough to leave out a man who has just made 166 undefeated T20 runs off 100 balls ... especially when that man is Hashim Amla ...

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