Time To Amla, Shrugging His Shoulders Two Years Of Recession > Cricket News, cricinfo, mobilecric, cricbuzz, livescore and more

Cricket news - Time for Amla to shrug off a two-year lull

In the last 15 months leading up to the World Cup, Hashim Amla averages just 32.24 in ODIs

In a recent interview with Cricbuzz, Ross Taylor was asked if he ever felt let down when his sustained ODI brilliance is often lost in the hullabaloo around Virat Kohli, Steve Smith, Joe Root and Kane Williamson. Pat came the reply: "I think the one who really gets left behind most in the ODI narrative and should be up there with the big four is Hashim Amla. Maybe he's a little bit older, but his record... he was scoring just as much as those four but just didn't get enough hype around him."

The New Zealander's choice of tense - past - is disconcerting, yet accurate. Amla scored his 7000th run in May 2017, a full 11 innings faster to the landmark than Kohli. Two years on, he's on 7927 and now has two innings left to pip the Indian captain to the 8K step.

Amla is undoubtedly one of the format's all-time greats. He is imaginative, skillful and possesses a set of the most malleable wrists in international cricket. He was the anchor that granted freedom of expression to Quinton de Kock, AB de Villiers and David Miller in South Africa's best ODI sides. He scored pretty runs, he scored brisk runs and more importantly, he scored big runs at the top.

That is the Amla South Africa have most missed in a stuttering start to this World Cup campaign. In fact, that is the Amla they have missed for a good portion of these last two years. For the decline is startling. From averaging 52.70 until the end of 2015, Amla's average slips to 40.87 post that. Factor in only the last 15 months in the build up to this World Cup and that average drops further to 32.24.

There were doubts if he would even want to play and be considered for the World Cup. The studio room at Supersport for South Africa's World Cup squad announcement had grown extremely tetchy when Amla didn't feature in the first 13 names of the run-down. Eventually, a century - in a losing cause - against Paksitan at Port Elizabeth in January and the management's unwillingness to burden Aiden Markram - still untested at the international level - had given the veteran opener a lease of life, and a chance to finish on his own terms.

Decline post 2016/2018

Much was expected of Amla after he showed glimpses of his best in an unbeaten half-century in Bristol in the rained-out warm-up game against West Indies. But in the first game of the tournament proper, the 36-year-old was late on the pull and copped a Jofra Archer short ball on his helmet and missed the Bangladesh game with suspected concussion. He was picked ahead of Markram for the India game and nicked a searing Jasprit Bumrah delivery to slip, prompting Kohli to exclaim: "To get Amla out like that, I haven't seen that happen in one-day cricket."

"The eyes, they don't work for him anymore against quick bowling" reckon those who have closely following Amla's career. It's a simplistic argument but one that's hard to disprove. Amla, 36 now, has predominantly relied on an economy of movement and excellent hand-eye co-ordination to play the fast bowlers, particularly those through the off side. Since the start of 2018, he has been out bowled or caught-behind in 9 of the 17 ODI innings, often playing inside the line of the ball. A bespectacled Virender Sehwag, another hand-eye player, suffered a similar fate in the final stages of his career.

Through South Africa's struggles against Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav in the home defeat to India, a common theme had emerged: South Africa weren't getting Amla, the team's best player of spin after Du Plessis, to play in the middle-overs. That happened because Amla was dismissed in the first PowerPlay much before the wrist spinners could even come into the attack. For a player with a propensity for big runs, Amla has been dismissed 11 times out of 17 inside the first 10 overs. Only five of his 17 dismissals have come to spin.

Powerplay struggles

Amla vs spin/seam since 2018

Amla himself recognised the need for working on his technique against the seamers after scoring only 92 runs from 8 innings at the CSA T20 challenge two months ago. Not wanting to be misguided by the quick-scoring patterns of the T20 format, he pulled out of the Cape Cobras squad one month away from the World Cup and joined South Africa batting coach Dale Benkenstein for a two-week personal training programme.

His work has continued. In England, Amla has even had an injured Dale Steyn bowl at him in an optional net session until the latter was replaced in the squad and Kagiso Rabada continues to pepper him in the nets with pacy deliveries in the channel, while Dale Benkenstein keeps a close eye.

"Hash is an important figure. Everybody knows that. He knows that. So we do rely on him, just as we rely on everyone in the team. But I guess you could say we rely on him more," Rabada said on the eve of the West Indies game. "As his teammate, we are there to support him. We know that he can, you know, produce magic out there on the field and he's been showing signs of it in the warm-up games and we are really hopeful that he can come off.

"I don't think it's extra pressure for him. I think he copes with it. I think he's a really, really sound mind. Yeah, he's a balanced individual. So, I think he knows what he has to do. We are working hard. We are working in the nets. We are planning. We are doing everything that we can in our power and he's doing everything he can, so God willing, hopefully he'll come good"

It is a no-brainer really that the walking wounded need Amla now more than ever. There's no AB, no Steyn, no Ngidi (for now). To get out of a three-game losing streak, they'll need something out of the ordinary to inspire them. And that has to come from the top, from the sage-like Amla.

"You don't look like me in this world without being firm in what you want to do," he had famously said when making a shock decision to step down from captaincy in early 2016. Amla has been firm in his decision to play the World Cup, and meticulous in his preparation. It is time to make it count, turn back the clock one more time.

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