Cape Town – He will deserve very much better, on the poignant occasion of his 100th Test match at the Wanderers from January 12, than to be playing it under some pressure.
But almost inevitably now, following his latest failure with a duck on day three of the second Test against Sri Lanka at Newlands on Wednesday, Proteas legend Hashim Amla will face mounting scrutiny in his landmark match at the Bullring.
The usually so reliable, plundering right-hander lasted only five deliveries before an admittedly challenging delivery from the tourists’ standout seamer in this series, Suranga Lakmal, induced him to thinly nick behind.
But it was a follow-up to Amla’s mere 29 in the first innings at a venue he has traditionally cherished; he got a double-century (201) in the equivalent New Year Test at Newlands last season.
Major scores, which have so customarily been his trademark, have been strangely elusive in recent weeks and months.
Wednesday’s nought -- in a reasonably relaxed situation with the dominant Proteas chasing runs ahead of an inevitable declaration -- meant that for only the second time in his Test career spanning more than 12 years, Amla had gone 10 innings or more without managing as much as a half-century.
The latest sequence of 10 mostly unproductive knocks has seen him scratch together only 196 runs since August 2016 at a depressing, easy-to-calculate average of 19.6.
It goes a long way to explaining why his overall average, once pretty firmly lodged in the 50s, has inched backwards to 49.45.
Of course the good, balancing news is that this remains an exemplary statistic.
But it is probably also fairly safe to bet that some onlookers -- now not long before the bearded accumulator turns 34 in March – will just be starting to wonder whether the ravages of time are catching up with Amla.
He has also struggled, in a handful of appearances in the one-day international landscape over the last six months or so, to produce a truly influential innings, so it is not as though he is even using the shorter format to assure his many devotees that he is still a force to be hugely reckoned with.
Given that he occupies a position of heavy responsibility at No 3 in the Test order, the proud and dedicated cricketer will not need reminding that his statistical weight to the cause has just not been cutting the mustard.
It is why Amla himself is likely to contemplate the Wanderers next Thursday with some mixed and not wholly relaxed emotions, regardless of whether the series – as is so massively likely – is a done deal for South Africa by then.
He is not used to fitful or unsatisfactory input, and who could blame him if it was perplexing him, burdening him, more and more?
Still, let’s acknowledge this much: even in the event that he were to under-deliver again in Johannesburg, Amla’s wonderful record is quite enough to warrant his ongoing presence in the Test side, certainly at least for the next assignment in New Zealand from February.
Backing up that argument is that there are growing question marks in other positions in the batting order, where lesser lights than the iconic Amla present issues of their own – these currently include JP Duminy at four and Temba Bavuma at six, although perhaps those are topics for another day.
*Amla will become the eighth South African to reach three figures in Test appearances next week, after leader Jacques Kallis (165 caps), Mark Boucher (146), Graeme Smith (116), Shaun Pollock (108), AB de Villiers (106), Gary Kirsten (101) and Makhaya Ntini (101).
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing