Hashim Amla: The rock of SA’s batting is in a hard place
Veteran batsman is ‘desperate, in a good way’ to regain form for World Cup, says batting coach Benkenstein
The stability of SA’s batting at the World Cup will depend on the success of 21 hours spent at Kingsmead over the course of two weeks. It’s to the downtown Durban ground that Hashim Amla is going this week, for three sessions of up to three and a half hours each, as he did last week, to try and find his game.
Dale Benkenstein, SA’s batting coach, is helping him look for it. “He really wants to work hard,” Benkenstein said. “He’s desperate, in a good way, to score some runs again.”
Amla is not scoring runs. Not enough of them, anyway, for a player who has been the rock of SA’s one-day line-up for 11 years. But the rock is in a hard place.
As Benkenstein said, “You can hit the ball as hard as you like, but that doesn’t mean anything if you’re not scoring runs.”
In his last foray in the one-day format, in five innings against Pakistan in January, Amla made 108 not out and 59.
But he scraped together 51 runs in four Test knocks against Sri Lanka in February, and suffered the only first-ball duck in his 215 innings in that format.
He made 92 in eight T20 innings for the Cobras last month. Before that he scored 10 in his only game in the One-Day Cup. Only once in those last nine trips to the crease, against the Dolphins at Newlands on April 14, when he scored 32 off as many balls, did Amla face as many as 20 deliveries.
No small factor in all that has been his father’s serious illness, which has kept him away from the game in physical as well as mental terms.
But when the World Cup starts in England at the end of the month Amla will again be the player SA will look to for sanity amid the madness. That remains as true as it was while Reeza Hendricks was being touted as a better option than Amla for the World Cup, but the openly expressed doubt in his abilities stung the stalwart.
“Even with his record he still had to make the squad, and I don’t think that was easy for him,” Benkenstein said.
Amla, who turned 36 at the end of March, has played 174 ODIs – more than all but 14 of the 150 players who named in the squads for this year’s World Cup. Only one of them is South African, JP Duminy, who has 20 more caps than Amla. And 2,863 fewer runs.
Among active players only Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni, Chris Gayle, Ross Taylor and Rohit Sharma have scored more runs than Amla; from 100 to 2,933 more. But they have also had from 29 to 118 more innings than him.
As much as SA will depend on Amla in England, they will also know that the World Cup hasn’t been his best stage.
In his 15 innings in the tournament his centuries have come when the pressure has not been on – 113 against the Netherlands in 2011 and 159 against Ireland in 2015 – and the most valuable of his three half-centuries has been the 61 he made against India in 2011.
But Benkenstein was confident Amla would be up to the challenge awaiting him.
“When you get well into your 30s it’s your experience more than anything else that gets you through your season. But ‘Hash’ knows this is not about a whole season – it’s about six weeks. He’s focused on putting his body on the line and doing his best.”
In the time Benkenstein has spent with the famously calm, utterly together Amla, the signs have been good: “It hasn’t felt like there’s anything different about him.”Maybe Amla hasn’t lost his game, only mislaid it. May 30 at the Oval, when SA play England in the World Cup opener, would be a good time to settle the issue.