Hashim Amla’s excellent Test record in India is a reason for optimism that he can turn his fortunes around when the first Test starts on Thursday.
After a poor tour across the shorter formats, Amla enters the Test series against India under pressure in more ways than one. The four-match series will be his biggest challenge as captain since taking over from Graeme Smith in July last year.
Amla is leading the No 1 ranked Test team in the world into battle against India on their own turf, a challenge right up there next to touring Australia. He will do so while his own form is under the microscope, part of a batting order which contains only three players, the captain included, who has previous experience playing Test cricket in India.
In the two T20Is and five ODIs that were played on this tour, Amla managed to score only 127 runs in seven innings, resulting in an average of 18.1, far below the lofty standards the player sets for himself.
Amla did well on his first tour as captain in July 2014 in Sri Lanka where South Africa won the Test series 1-0, but this is a bigger test on a bigger stage. To add to Amla’s troubles, AB de Villiers and JP Duminy are the only other top-order batsmen to have played Test cricket in India before.
Dean Elgar, Stiaan van Zyl and Faf du Plessis have played in these conditions and toured with the SA A side in the past, but not in a Test series against the best India has to offer.
The tour has already been hugely successful, but South Africa are known for the importance they place on the longest format of the game and are extremely proud of not only their No 1 ranking, but also their very impressive away record.
Amla will be keen to continue that trend, but it is difficult to see South Africa doing well without him contributing a fair number of runs. It is here where some perspective is needed.
Firstly, Amla (or indeed anyone else) hardly batted in the series in Bangladesh earlier this year thanks to the monsoon season washing out both Tests. Discounting that series, Amla has been in pretty good knick, scoring 208 in the first Test against the West Indies in December last year followed by 63 in the third Test.
But what is even more impressive is Amla’s Test record in India. At first glance it seems improbable, but looking closer it makes for impressive reading.
In six Tests in India, Amla has scored 823 runs (four hundreds) at an average of 102.87 with a highest score of 253 not out. Those numbers suggests a player who is comfortable in the conditions and who enjoys batting against India, just as Quinton de Kock seems to do in the 50-over format.
It gives reasons for optimism that he can turn a disappointing tour into a triumphant one, which will be key because it is always easier to forgive a struggling player when the team is winning. But when the struggle coincides with the team losing, it becomes difficult to separate the two.
Amla has never experienced this before. Hopefully, on this tour, he won’t have to.