Cape Town – Even if they won’t necessarily go away, expect at least a pronounced tactical hiatus from the “Hashim must go” lobby.
Leadership of a Test cricket team requires many qualities and yes, the Proteas’ helmsman Hashim Amla may never be the most vocal, animated and consistently gee-upping sort of character in the field.
He has also come under scrutiny, to put it fairly politely, over his usage of bowlers: sometimes this has seemed justified, though has anyone stopped to properly consider that he presides these days over a leaner, often injury-bedevilled four-man specialist attack with no Jacques Kallis available for precious all-rounder oomph?
But meaningful personal deeds for the cause count for plenty in inspirational value in the art of captaincy, too ... and before the second Test against England at Newlands here the soft-spoken 32-year-old candidly admitted that he wished to lead from the front to a far greater extent in the contest, with his misfiring charges already 1-0 down in the four-match series and his own form rarely ropey.
Amla emphatically matched words with actions on another energy-sapping middle day of the glamour New Year Test, registering his first century in 14 knocks in the format since amassing 208 against West Indies at Centurion in mid-December 2014.
Even more crucially, the durable right-hander didn’t switch off his engine and feel his job was complete after getting to three figures; he was all too aware of the need to press on doggedly considering the Ben Stokes-inspired weight of England’s rather hurricane-like first innings.
He negotiated the entire day’s play for 157 not out, after resuming on 64, and can now add this city to six others – Johannesburg, Chennai, Nagpur, London (The Oval), Perth and Centurion -- in which he has gone beyond the 150-mark in Tests.
Amla did present a couple of chances to an errant England fielding division, as their bowlers largely stuck manfully to an unenviable task, but there must now be a fair chance that he moves on to eclipse the highest score by a compatriot at Newlands –Herschelle Gibbs’s 228 against Pakistan in 2003.
If ever a team needed lifting – not just because of galling events on days one and two, but on the grounds of several lean months ahead of the match – it was the Proteas.
Their captain was fittingly the primary provider, although close lieutenant AB de Villiers played his part during a partnership of 183: this searing stroke-player was some way off his A-game but nevertheless batted two minutes short of five hours for his 88, and eating up time is what the hosts continue to need in their rearguard scrap.
For the first time in the series (make that their tour as a whole so far) England found themselves footsore and largely fruitless in the field on Monday; it was almost as if South Africa had awoken from a coma.
They simultaneously seemed to signal that they aren’t ready to give up their hold on the bilateral Basil D’Oliveira Trophy quite yet, and would have been heartened to see English bowlers getting a bit tetchy and frustrated as the shadows lengthened and another scorcher also lay in prospect for Cape Town on day four.
The Proteas certainly aren’t out of the woods: they still trailed at stumps by 276 runs, with seven wickets in hand, and would be happy to drive on comfortably beyond the follow-on avoidance requirement of 430 as first mini-target on Tuesday – not that the tiring tourists are likely to enforce it if that option unexpectedly exists.
But Amla’s staggering powers of concentration and discipline have already gone a long way to making a draw easily the favourite result from here.
Frankly, come day five and there is a good chance this pitch will still look a more attractive one to bat on in many ways than certain strips the Proteas encountered on day one of their much-debated prior tour of India.
The Proteas have arrived at the races at last, I fancy, with further good news for them being a near-effortless unbeaten half-century from Faf du Plessis as he shapes up as just another South African batsman seeking to atone spiritedly for recent statistical leanness.
Their previously under-fire skipper has masterminded the halt, at least for the time being, to a worrying rot at a time that hugely examined his mettle, and it must not be undervalued.
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