TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
ACCORDING to Hashim Amla on Wednesday, “ … if it was easy it would be called easy cricket”. Not that he needed to say so after his team’s performance in the first test against Bangladesh in Chittagong.
SA were indeed tested, but by their own lacklustre performance more than by the willing but wanting opposition.
They fought back from a first innings of 248 to reach 61/0, a deficit of 17, after three weather-affected days. But the rain kept falling and the last two days were washed out.
More rain is forecast for Dhaka for the next week, raising the possibility of the second test – which starts there on Thursday – falling victim to a similar fate.
Metaphorically, even darker clouds hang over SA. Chittagong marked the first draw in the nine tests the teams have contested. The other eight have been won by SA, seven of them by an innings. But the look of SA for too much of the first test did not suggest dominance.
In fact, whether the visitors will hold on to their proud record of not having lost an away series since August, 2006 – that adds up to 11 rubbers of more than one match – is suddenly a relevant question.
And SA are feeling that pressure. So much so that Amla veered towards contradicting himself on Wednesday.
“With the first test rained off it has put a lot of emphasis on this game,” was his answer to one reporter’s question. Fair enough.
But then the script changed: “I don’t think it’s a must-win game. I don’t think there are any knockouts in test cricket as yet but we are here to win.”
Either you know you have to win or you know that victory is not essential. But you can’t have it both ways. If Amla is struggling to make that choice, every cricketminded South African could make it for him.
More likely Amla tripped over his own deference in his carefulness to avoid saying what could be interpreted as the wrong thing. Cue the wrong thing …
Amla seemed more certain that SA’s attack would be unchanged: “We’ve got three-and-a-half seamers now; I don’t think we are going to add another one.”
That’s a reference to the handy contribution Stiaan van Zyl made with the ball in Chittagong, where he conceded 23 runs in 13 overs and burgled a wicket.
But the other half of that equation by way of a brilliant legside stumping, Quinton de Kock, will be missing in action. De Kock has scored 100 runs in six innings across all formats on the Bangladesh tour. He reached rock bottom in Chittagong, where he lost his off stump to the second ball he faced.
Dane Vilas, who has reportedly been running wicketkeeping operations during SA’s training sessions this week, will make his test debut.
Amla himself might envy De Kock his escape from the heat of the kitchen. After four innings on tour, SA’s captain has 64 runs to show for his efforts.
But, for now, the focus is on Dale Steyn. One more wicket and he will be the only South African other than Shaun Pollock to own 400 test scalps.