TELFORD VICE, Newlands
WAS Hashim Amla’s beard bushier than a particular squirrel’s tail? The question hung unanswered at Newlands’ on Wednesday. But there was no doubt that Amla scored more runs than anyone else in the third T20 between SA and Australia: 97 of them, unbeaten, a new career-best.
The squirrel? Nuts. That’s if runs are counted in the cricket sense. If instead they were about how much ground was covered then the squirrel that scampered nervously around and across Newlands until the innings break and twice came within a metre or so of colliding with a ball hit by Amla won this contest paws down.
So did Australia, who prevailed by six wickets to clinch the series 2-1. Only 10 times in the 48 T20s in which SA have batted first have they scored more than their total of 178/4, but that wasn’t enough to hold the Aussies – who won with four balls to spare.
An enterprising stand of 76 between Usman Khawaja and Shane Watson, followed by Steve Smith’s 44 in a free-flowing partnership of 79 with David Warner, all but decided the issue.
Dale Steyn went faster than 140 km/h for the first time since his return from injury and Imran Tahir went where hasn’t before by showing a fine throwing arm to go with another bristling bowling performance.
But the match itself was a footnote to the roaming rodent – which at one stage was pursued by five security staff trying to shoo it beyond the boundary and became a bona fide star on television and on social media, where it was quickly named “Squirrel Mitchley” – and the question of who AB de Villiers’ opening partner should be at the World T20 in India: Amla or Quinton de Kock?
De Kock cracked the nod in the first two games against the Aussies, when he scored seven and 44. On Wednesday De Villiers was removed from the equation to give Amla a go.
And go he did, staying true to his subtle self but still clipping his runs off 62 balls for a strike rate of 156.45.
Whatever the format and whatever the situation Amla plays like Amla always plays, and he did so faultlessly. There are other measures of his greatness but that one is as valid as any.
Amla was denied a more realistic shot at a century when his partner in a stand of 50, David Miller, neglected to cross after he had slapped a catch to cover with the third-last ball of the innings.
Duminy scampered a single to give the strike back to Amla, who drilled the last delivery of SA’s 20 overs over midwicket for six.
Wednesday’s pitch was closer to what SA will encounter in India than the surfaces the other matches in the series, at Kingsmead and the Wanderers, were played on.
So how Amla can be left out is difficult to fathom. First prize would be to find room in the XI for his silky skills and De Kock’s devastating hitting.
How? The squirrel’s answer would be as good as any.