Amla out of runs, not of magic

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

LIKE Donald Bradman and Sachin Tendulkar before him, Hashim Amla stops the world. So he should.

A vintage Amla innings is a wonder straight out of Hogwarts; a magic spell conjured by the alchemic meeting of uncommon geometry and unsettling certainty. If Amla played quidditch he would out-Potter Harry himself.

As they did when Bradman and Tendulkar were at the crease, people stop what they are doing to watch Amla.

“Hashim Amla, what a classy, elegant player,” Michael Hussey, the former Australian test batsman who has served time in South Africa’s trenches as a batting consultant, gushed on http://www.cricket.com.au like every other fan before South Africa’s test series Down Under.

“I love watching him bat. And he is run-hungry. If he gets in he’s extremely hard to stop and very hard to stop from scoring.”

There is a crispness to Amla’s strokes and a depth to the thinking that allows him to play them like he does that is impossible to ignore.

That those strokes produce a steady stream of runs is a rude afterthought along the lines of noticing that an arresting painting is housed in a nice frame.

But Amla’s world has stopped. Or at least slowed to a trickle – not of strokes but of the runs that are the necessary nuisance of what he has been sent to the middle to do.

His average, which hovered between 60 and 67 from February 2010 to June last year, when he scored 16 centuries, crashed to 35.26 in his last 23 test innings, which brought him just two tons.

Only twice in the 18 series in which he has batted at least five times has Amla averaged less than his 19.60 in Australia.

Should South Africans be concerned that the man who has for years owned the No. 3 spot like a tiger owns its stripes would seem to be on his way out of the jungle?

Jimmy Cook, the former test opener who has turned his hand to sorting out batting problems wherever they present themselves, including in Graeme Smith, didn’t think too hard for an answer: “No. They shouldn’t be worrying at all. I don’t think it’s a problem.

“Sometimes batsmen go through those patches where they’re playing OK but they just don’t get runs; it doesn’t work for them. There’s no problem with Hashim.

“You don’t play a hundred tests and average 50 if you can’t play.”

His advice to the 97-test stalwart?

“Carry on. Keep going. Do what you do. Do what you’ve done for the last 10 years.”

What did Josh Hazlewood dismissing Amla all five times in Australia tell Cook?

“Sometimes you just get out to a certain bowler. I don’t think he found Hazlewood that difficult. He played him OK and then he got out to him.”

But Hussey knew different. And he knew it before the fact. 

“I think someone like Josh Hazlewood could have some success against (Amla),” Hussey said all those weeks ago. “He doesn’t use a lot of footwork but has great hands through the off side.

“But with Josh Hazlewood, on Australian pitches, getting a little bit of extra bounce, (he) might be able to get Hashim Amla to try and drive through the covers and get caught in the slips or gully.

“That might be the only plan that can have success against someone like Hashim Amla.”

The drive – or nascent drive – featured in all of Amla’s dismissals in Australia, and while Hazlewood’s numbing consistency makes him a dull Voldemort maybe that’s his magic.

If so, Amla’s wizardry can undo it.

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