Cape Town – “Hashim Amla” and “dropped” … they sit about as comfortably together as “Donald Trump” and “US media”.
In short, unlikely bedfellows.
Yet that cricketing scenario came to fruition with the decision by the ailing Durban Heat on Sunday to omit Proteas legend and marquee player Amla from their line-up for the Mzansi Super League match against Paarl Rocks at Boland Park.
The move didn’t have the effect of turning around the bottom-placed Heat’s fortunes, as they suffered another reverse to the home team and simply fell further off the playoffs-seeking pace.
But the wisdom of the Amla decision was hardly shown up as foolhardy, either: the opening partnership between the new alliance of Morne van Wyk and the drafted-in Sarel Erwee produced 65 runs in some seven rollicking enough overs; the innings only fizzled out disappointingly at more advanced stages.
So at least for the time being, the great Hashim Mahomed Amla, 35, may stay confined to his exceedingly rare, pitch-side bib.
Model, popular professional that he always has been, Amla hardly threw a strop: instead he was keenly active in “extra player” sort of duties, scurrying around doing chores like fetching fresh paraphernalia for colleagues busy at the crease or later in the field.
I had been mulling over for some time penning a piece recommending – and frankly regardless of the level of competition – that Amla effectively be done a favour by experiencing the novel misfortune, for him, of the axe.
Yes, not that delicate, tippy-toe expression “rotational break” or the like, but rather the Fullest Monty in omission.
For he has been so much a part of the furniture in most teams he plays for – and traditionally has served with such sparkling honour – that perhaps a bit of subconscious mental rot, and a tad more fatigue than he realizes after unrelenting years on the global treadmill, have taken root.
Amla has very much reached that increasingly vulnerable age for appetite retention in the modern game, one which sees more and more illustrious cricketers either pack it in completely, a fraction ahead of expectation in some cases (Graeme Smith springs to mind, yes?) or quit national colours and extend their careers, if their skills fit the bill, on the lucrative globetrotting franchise T20 circuit.
In truth, T20 is not the foremost area of suitability for Amla, a pedigreed, highly durable batsman with a raft of major exploits stretching over well more than a decade in the premier environment of Test cricket and the “halfway house”, in some senses, of 50-overs white-ball activity where he has similarly been responsible for pure artistry at times.
So he may not be losing ludicrous amounts of sleep over a sequence in the MSL, pre-Paarl, of 55 runs in five innings at a miserly average of 11 – we all know this is the most lotto-like playground of them all.
Nevertheless, the low returns somehow also seemed a worrisome extension of his broader, increasingly noticeable decline as a once-enviable, top-echelon dominator of batsmanship.
Amla doesn’t seem to have fallen into any special “all at sea” mode in technique terms; I would argue that he is more pertinently falling prey, increasingly, to strangely soft moments in concentration – and that was once such a riveting strength of his.
The hunger, the resilience … they just haven’t been quite where they should be, by my estimation.
His descent over the last couple of years into more moderate deliverer of runs is reflected (somehow unjustly, you want to contend) in the way both his Test and ODI averages have dipped into the high forties after both, in his most golden years, had more familiarly been bedded around the giddying mid-fifties.
Amla hasn’t struck a century in his last 19 Test innings – his longest trot without one since as far back as his tentative early days in the fold, when he went “dry” for 23 innings between late April 2006 and November 2007.
Similarly, he’s had a dozen, most recent ODI turns at the crease without a three-figure score, a length of drought not experienced by him in more than five years before that.
So his fall-away has been quite pronounced, and seemingly all-encompassing.
Sitting out a game (or two, or three?) for the Durban Heat in his least lucrative format won’t be seen as the biggest deal in the world by some, possibly more traditionalist-geared observers.
But if it has the kind of overdue “shock treatment” effect that I fancy it might well do, it should simultaneously bode well for a refocussed, re-stimulated Hashim Amla for both the home international season just ahead and the not insignificant matter of World Cup 2019 in the United Kingdom.
Because class is permanent, and you want as much of that possible in your squad.
And preferably not wearing a bib.