TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
“IT takes a win,” was Hashim Amla’s unusually direct answer when he was asked on Monday what it would take to put SA back on track in their one-day series against England.
The visitors have been the better team and deserve their 2-0 lead. Another victory at Centurion on Tuesday and they will add the rubber to the test series they won last month.
That would see SA’s already sorry summer lurch to a new low: England are a win away from becoming the first team in 14 years to leave these shores with trophies earned in two formats on one tour.
Standing in their way is a SA side who can feel the wall behind their backs.
“It’s a massive motivating factor – we’ve got three finals in a row,” Amla said. “Hopefully we play the best cricket we can play.”
A complication, for SA, is that they will not have home advantage on Tuesday. Quite the opposite.
Centurion is easily SA’s happiest hunting ground as a test team. But it is also the only major venue in the country where they have lost more day/night one-day internationals than they have won.
Six victories and seven defeats is SA’s record under lights at Centurion. That’s as close as it can be but it contrasts starkly with how they fare at the Wanderers, where they have won 11 and lost four, as well as at Newlands (18-4), Kingsmead (13-7) and St George’s Park (10-2).
And the here and now of having to live with an England batting order that is more an iron bar than a chain – it has no weak links – won’t make the task of bucking the Centurion trend any easier.
“They bat very deep, which allows them to attack throughout the game – even if they lose a wicket or two,” Amla admitted.
What were SA’s hopes of fighting England’s batting fire with their own?
“We’ve had seven batsmen for a long time, and it’s been very important for those batsmen to take the responsibility and score the runs and not leave it for No. 8, 9, 10 and 11,” Amla said. “We hope to get back to that.
“I know guys have spoken about trying to lengthen our batting, but with the (flat) wickets you come across in one-day cricket you can’t really sacrifice the quality of bowling.”
Indeed. But you also can’t put up with the world’s most explosive batsman lagging at No. 6 among the runscorers in the series. That’s where AB de Villiers is after two innings.
SA are a worryingly weaker side when he doesn’t fire, and they will need him to do so on Tuesday.
They will also need Morne Morkel and Kagiso Rabada. Morkel’s economy rate of 7.00 was SA’s lowest on Bloem’s flat pitch on Wednesday, and he and Rabada were SA’s only bowlers to get away with conceding less than a run a ball at St George’s Park on Saturday.
Like Amla said, it will take a win to keep SA alive. But what it will take to achieve that win is a question the home side have twice failed to answer.