The shock defeat at the hands of Sri Lanka notwithstanding there is little doubt that South Africa have a pretty impressive home record. In the past one year they have defeated India and Australia besides making a clean sweep of the three-Test series against Pakistan. And the main reason behind this triumphant run has been the high quality fast bowling attack. In Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Lungi Ngidi, Kagiso Rabada and Duanne Olivier they have the most destructive pace bowling line-up since the days of the fearsome West Indian pace attack of the 80s. The figures associated with the South African quintet are of the mind boggling and eye rubbing variety and even the best of batsmen have not been able to succeed against them.
However for all their skill and hostility it must be said that the South African quicks have been helped by fast and bouncy tracks. But by playing to their main strength South Africa have also undermined the confidence of their batsmen. On such surfaces even the visiting fast bowlers are bound to strike gold and the result is that South Africa have generally been out for low totals. It is another matter that the superb fast bowling attack has been able to defend such totals.
Perhaps no other batsman symbolizes the manner in which the South Africans are being besieged as Hashim Amla. The epitome of class, style and skill Amla has been one of the truly great contemporary batsmen. His impeccable technique and unflappable temperament have also made him one of the most prolific run-getters in modern times. He is the only South African to hit a triple hundred in Tests and on the way he became among the fastest to reach several marks be it runs or centuries. His batting average for quite some time exceeded 50.
And yet Amla’s 28th and last hundred was compiled against Bangladesh in October 2017. Since then he has played 15 Tests (29 innings) without getting a hundred forced to be content with just half a dozen fifties. His average has slipped to 46 which does not measure up to the high standards he has set for himself. And after seemingly racing to the 10,000 run mark in Tests he is right now on 9282 after 124 matches. And while the fact remains that he has played 13 of those 15 Tests at home he has also failed in the two Tests he has played in Sri Lanka during the period.
Amla turns 36 next month and does not have time on his hands. And while his ODI form remains good – he averages almost 50 in this format – ironically he has been dropped from the squad to play Sri Lanka from Sunday. Perhaps the time has come for the selectors to drop Amla from the Test squad too. It will be a tough decision but sometimes these have to be taken in the larger interests of the team.