Hashim Amla’s performance in the coming match against New Zealand may prove key to South Africa’s World Cup redemption, writes JON CARDINELLI
It’s been one of the biggest talking points at this World Cup: When will Hashim Amla fire?
Some have hammered on about the Proteas’ collective batting woes. Others have invested time and energy into the AB de Villiers-recall debate.
All and sundry, however, have wondered whether Amla – one of the greatest batsmen of the modern era – still has it in those famed wrists and hands to produce an innings of consequence.
It was the right decision to take Amla to the World Cup. He was selected for his ability to make big contributions at the top of the order. He was included on the basis of his experience, something the Proteas don’t have in abundance across the 15-man squad.
It may seem a silly statement to make after Amla has contributed 13, 6, 6 and 41 not out in four innings at this tournament. And yet it’s fair to say that the Proteas are in need of their veterans – the few who are left – now more than ever.
Following the win against Afghanistan, skipper Faf du Plessis was asked by former England captain Mike Atherton if the team would persist with Amla at the top of the order. Du Plessis highlighted Amla’s importance within the team set-up and said that the knock against Afghanistan would have done wonders for the player’s confidence.
Du Plessis gave Atherton, and by extension everyone watching the post-match presentation, the impression that Amla will feature in the do-or-die match against New Zealand on Wednesday. Clearly the team believes that the great batsman is on the verge of turning the corner.
Amla scored 41 off 83 balls in Cardiff on Saturday, an innings that included just four boundaries. Du Plessis brushed aside suggestions that Amla and the Proteas took too long to surpass the modest target of 127 (34.1 overs).
The Proteas captain felt that the team ticked a box in winning the game and that Amla showed progress in finishing the contest with an asterisk next to his name. The nett-run rate clearly isn’t a concern at this stage.
South Africa’s slim hopes of qualifying for the semi-finals hinge of them winning their remaining games against New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Australia. They face a long and challenging road to the playoffs, and yet they can’t look beyond the next clash against the Kiwis.
The Proteas need Amla to come good against New Zealand. The 36-year-old was selected for the World Cup as those among the management and playing group felt it was a matter of when rather than if he found form. He’s been backed consistently at this tournament – whenever he’s been fit – and after a string of indifferent contributions its time for the player to repay the selectors’ faith with a score of significance.
Will an Amla score of 70 or 100 be enough? That’s an important question, as it highlights the fact that the Proteas have more than one problem on the batting front.
Indeed, it’s been easy to back Amla at this tournament given that Aiden Markram – the other opening option – hasn’t really delivered. None of the batsmen have impressed and if the Proteas crash out of the World Cup before the playoffs the selection and backing of Amla won’t be the sole reason for the team’s failure at the tournament.
Du Plessis hasn’t lost hope yet, though. A big knock by Amla at the top of the order may set the platform for a campaign-altering result. An important win against New Zealand may be followed by two more against Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Amla and the top six may go into the round-robin finale against Australia with some form and hope of qualifying for the knockouts.
It all starts with the next game against New Zealand, though. It all starts with Amla.
Photo: Cricket World Cup/Twitter