Cape Town – The Proteas’ Test batting is jittery enough these days anyway, but two critical factors make them seem that bit more vulnerable as they enter Friday’s opening clash of the season with New Zealand at Kingsmead.
One is the decidedly rare absence from their five-day plans of injured regular captain and withering stroke-player AB de Villiers.
South Africa are still slowly, sometimes painfully coming to terms with the retirements of such heavyweights of the format like Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith, but now the heavily-fallen, once premier side on the planet tackle the Black Caps in a two-Test series also minus De Villiers’ formidable statistical clout – 106 Tests and 8,074 runs at an average of just over 50.
Enter, then, the Hashim Amla factor: the other truly proven, world-class accumulator in the SA arsenal naturally carries a particularly hefty weight of responsibility in this short series.
Yet the portents for the vastly experienced right-hander helping the Proteas get their “summer” off to a rip-roaring start in the city of his birth aren’t exactly wonderful.
A breaker of bowlers’ hearts in numerous corners of the world for much of his 12-year Test career so far, “The Incredible Hash” has found runs at Kingsmead peculiarly hard to come by.
Amla sports a sublime average of 51.45 over the course of his 92 Tests, and 25 centuries, but Durban specifically sees his average plummet to 18.62 from nine appearances in the prestigious format there.
The mere 298 runs he has managed at the ground (highest score 69 against West Indies, 2007/08) don’t even measure up to the sum of runs he achieved in one especially memorable solitary knock – the unbeaten triple-century he recorded against England at the peak of the Proteas’ powers against England at The Oval in 2012.
What makes his Kingsmead average look even more glaringly wretched is the fact that he has blossomed at just about every other one of South Africa’s major Test centres.
Amla boasts 1,143 runs at 87.92 at Centurion (scene of the next Test against the Kiwis, so that’s a comfort), 1,208 runs at 50.33 at Newlands, 742 runs at 49.46 at the Wanderers, and 328 runs at 46.85 at St George’s Park.
In three of those nine Tests he’s sampled in Durban, three have seen him dismissed in single figures twice, including very nearly getting a dreaded “pair” in both of his first two appearances at the venue -- he registered one and nought against England in November 2004 and the very same sequence against India in December 2006, even if his fortunes have subsequently improved to some degree.
This encounter with the Black Caps seems a perfectly-timed opportunity for him to set things right at Kingsmead, doesn’t it?
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