Hashim Amla’s tests of greatness

A little of the gloss is taken off that particular ton by its circumstances, South Africa having pulled up short to register a dissonant 266 for 2, which appeared a scoreline from another age and indeed was the lowest ODI total for a side batting first and only losing two wickets since 1992. His knock, 108* off 120 balls, was in danger of making Amla look similarly anachronistic, and though he registered another fifty three innings later in the series, that likewise came in a match South Africa lost.

It’s not the way he usually does things: 24 of his 27 ODI tons have come in South African wins, and his average when South Africa triumph in ODIs shoots up from a shade under 50 to 63.20.

Those are the sorts of returns South Africa will need from Amla if they are make a serious attempt at World Cup glory in three and a half months’ time. That tournament will likely be the swansong of what has been an outstanding career, and Amla’s performances during Pakistan’s tour revealed, as Mark Nicholas put it, “both the influence of Father Time and a deep-rooted determination to overcome him.”

Once he hit the summit, little has changed about Amla’s game over the years. While his methods are once again bearing dividends, questions in the media are somewhat inevitable at this stage when things don’t quite fall into place. Amla is simply of that age now, and time is running out on him as, ultimately, it runs out on all of us.

His runs against Pakistan will help. Any more dropped catches will not. Amla missed chances in the slips in both the Test and ODI series, and while a player dropping a catch is not necessarily a sign of anything other than a momentary lapse of concentration or execution, Amla is of a vintage where such lapses raise a flag.

“How do you want me to answer that?” asked his coach Ottis Gibson, when asked if the chances Amla has missed recently have caused him any worries. “It’s not a concern. People drop catches all the time. It happens in cricket. He didn’t go out there with the intention of dropping it. It just happens.”

Players get older, powers wane and people retire. That also just happens. But for the runs he has scored this season, for his 18,418 international runs across formats, for his contribution as one half of the most prolific South African ODI batting pair in history, for his record in England (where he averages 56.73 in ODIs), Amla is a vital part of South Africa World Cup plans. How he performs at that tournament, and where he goes from there, will be down to is his will to succeed and his willingness to keep testing his own greatness.