Cape Town – Cricket dishes up certain ‘once-in-a-generation’ stars who, regardless of recent form, are undroppable.
Hashim Amla is one of those players.
The 35-year-old has been the bedrock of this Proteas Test team for the better part of 12 years, ever since he started finding his feet on the international stage back in 2006.
What he has done in Proteas colours over the years is almost unrivalled.
His 118 Test matches make him the third-most capped South African in the format, he is South Africa’s third highest run-scorer in Tests as well as across all formats and he remains the only South African to have carded a triple century in Test cricket.
Only Jacques Kallis (45) has more Test tons than Amla (28) from a South African point of view, but over the years it has been Amla’s ability to go big that has made him stand out.
Regardless of the format, when Amla makes runs, the Proteas generally win.
His game has evolved over the years – he has become one of the most innovative top-order batsman in ODI cricket – but it is in the longest format where Amla has always been at his most destructive.
Recent signs, however, are cause for concern.
With AB de Villiers now retired, Amla’s role in the South African top order becomes increasingly vital.
He has, of course, played a lot of Test cricket without De Villiers, but given the fragile state of the current Proteas top order, a firing Amla is needed now more than ever.
There are the likes of Dean Elgar and Faf du Plessis, who are as gritty as anyone, but Amla provides the pedigree that can take matches away from opposition attacks in any conditions.
At least, that used to be the case.
A closer look reveals that Amla has struggled in recent times.
His last century came in October last year in the second Test against Bangladesh in Bloemfontein. He had also scored a ton in the first Test in Potchefstroom.
Since then, though, the numbers do not make for easy reading.
In his last 17 innings since that Bangladesh series, Amla has scored 419 runs at an average of just 24.6.
Those stats are so startling because we have come to expect so much more from the ‘Mighty Hash’ over the years.
His Test average, once comfortably above the coveted 50-mark, has dipped to 47.6 and, on Monday, he was dumped out of the top 10 on the ICC Test rankings.
Aiden Markram is playing Test cricket on the sub-continent for the first time while Temba Bavuma is getting to grips with being the new No 4, and it all makes Amla’s role in Sri Lanka that much more crucial to the Proteas cause.
The South African batting display in the first Test in Galle was as bad as it gets and their 73 in the second innings was the lowest score by a Proteas side since re-admission.
This is the bottom of the barrel.
Because of Kevin Anderson’s Wimbledon charge, the Super Rugby play-off deciders and the Soccer World Cup final, the Proteas slipped under the radar despite one of their worst performances in recent memory.
The fact remains, though, that the batsmen looked clueless against quality spin bowling in spin-friendly conditions.
There needs to be dramatic improvement in Colombo if South Africa are to save this series, and somebody needs to lead from the front.
There is no De Villiers, no Kallis and no Graeme Smith.
The best players step up in times of adversity and silence their critics. For Amla, that time is now.
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