OPINION: Hashim Amla overshadows 2nd test match
CAPE TOWN - Hashim Amla took most by surprise with his announcement straight after the conclusion of the second test at Newlands that he would be stepping down as South African test captain with immediate effect.
This came off the back of a heroic double century, his fourth score over 200 for the Proteas.
In fairness he was given at least three lifelines, as the English didn't seem too keen on taking their catches, however the great players take their chances.
Amla had come under a lot of criticism from the media and public after a forgettable tour to India and then a loss in Durban against England to go 1-0 behind in the four match series. His leadership style was called into question, and the noise was only amplified by the fact that his batting form saw a significant downward spiral.
People had become used to the fact that 'Hash' was a serial run machine, averaging over 50 in tests. However, like all top players he went through a lean spell and the Indian pitches were never going to help.
Amla said that he made the decision by himself and has been thinking about it for two weeks already. He believes he would be would more value as a senior player and fully focused batsman.
Although his team did show signs of turning a corner in the final three days of the second test with both bat and ball, I think Amla made the right decision; Amla scoring runs for the Proteas without the captaincy is more valuable to the team than an out of form captain with doubts about his willingness to lead the side.
When Amla scores runs, South Africa wins Test matches. His highest scores of 311 (England, 2012), 253 (India, 2010) and 208 (West Indies, 2014) all ended in victories for the Proteas. Newlands was the first time an Amla double entry did not result in a win for his side.
Amla captained South Africa 14 times; winning 4, drawing 6 and losing 4. His record is not anything to write home about although weather in Bangladesh and the conditions in India did him no favours.
Amla will at least know his last few days as the Skipper were satisfactory, with his workmanlike 208 a reminder of his class. He has stated he is still committed to the Proteas in all three formats, which is a blessing, as Amla remains one of the world's elite batsman having just passed 7000 tests runs at Newlands.
PROTEA BATTING EVENTUALLY IMPROVES
Although the Proteas remain 1-0 down in the series, Day 3 and 4 was a watershed moment for them as their first innings total of 627/7 was the first time they had scored over 250 in a test since January 2015 at the same venue.
There were many positives that can be taken from Newlands, obviously Amla getting his double century we have already touched on.
Senior players AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis played his way back into form with both ending up in the 80's. The pair missed out on deserved centuries but for Du Plessis it was an important innings, interestingly he last score over 50 was also at Newlands in 2015.
Du Plessis the T20 captain, a senior player in the team justified his election after some debate over who should make way for Quinton de Kock's inclusion between himself and JP Duminy (Duminy has just scored a big century for The Cape Cobras). It looks like Du Plessis has ended that debate, at least for the remainder of the series.
De Villiers contribution was never in question, even the disastrous Indian tour he was the only South African batsmen that left India without any scars to his reputation, if anything it was enhanced.
His 171 run partnership with Amla came at an absolute crucial time for the home side, the pair set up the foundation for the rest of the middle order to flourish.
If you look at his ODI record, it suggests that captaincy will not hinder his batting exploits; the fact that he has been relieved of wicket keeping duties would probably make him feel more unshackled.
Temba Bavuma and Chris Morris partnership was also a massive plus, the fact that their number six (Bavuma) scored a ton coupled with the reality that Morris can be considered an all-rounder after his valiant 69 shows that the Proteas batting still has a lot of life in it.
Morris presence in the test side lengthens the batting line-up, a luxury South Africa enjoyed in the days of Shaun Pollock and Lance Klusener.
If you compared the two sides batting line ups it cannot be argued that England have a side that bat deeper than their hosts. Moeen Ali batting at 8 is a bonus not many teams enjoy but the emergence of Morris as a handy all-rounder (including his superb fielding) closes that gap ever so slightly.
TEMBA BAVUMA HAD NEWLANDS ON THEIR FEET
Amla scored a timely double century, de Villiers did exactly what you expect him to do and score runs, du Plessis also got in on the action with a patient 86 and Chris Morris got 67 on debut.
These were all highlights for The Proteas and were recognised by the knowledgeable Newlands crowd, however the biggest cheers went to Bavuma when he reached his 50 and then his maiden test century.
The crowd obviously recognised the significance of the 25 year olds knock rising to their feet in an emotional celebration felt by all that were present in Cape Town.
Bavuma benefitted from the base set up by the likes Amla, de Villiers and du Plessis playing with freedom in what was certainly the most entertaining innings from a South African perspective.
He showed off a diversity of strokes all-round the wicket whilst cementing his place in the team and proving all his doubters wrong for the time being.
The test for the diminutive right hander will now be if he can kick on from this century, he must become a fixture in the test team as well as a reliable performer for a number of years.
Although his international career is in his infancy, he will look to improve his average of 35.28 to over 40 plus. If Newlands and some of his application in challenging Indian conditions is anything to go by this is a very distinct possibility.
SELECTION QUESTIONS REMAIN AFTER NEWLANDS
The Proteas have named an unchanged squad for the rest of the series, this means that Stiaan Van Zyl might just get another chance at the top order.
The classy left hander foolishly got himself run out at Newlands at a stage of his international career where needs an innings of substance.
Van Zyl will realise the pressure is on him, especially since there have been strong calls for the inclusion of veteran Lions opener Stephen Cook.
The opening berth does not seem to suit van Zyl, it must be noted that the majority of his 7000 runs in first class cricket has come in the middle order.
It also worth noting that his debut test century came at number 6, van Zyl certainly has the first class pedigree to suggest that he is ready for international cricket but he just seems out of sorts opening the batting.
The selection panel might go another route for the third test at The Wanderers, they have the option of promoting either Bavuma, Rilee Rossouw or Quinton De Kock.
Promoting Bavuma to open would not be ideal especially after such an impressive counter attacking innings at number 6, Rossouw is in the same boat as van Zyl in terms of making his name domestically in the middle order whilst de Kock will have too much on his plate if he was to open the batting and keep wicket.
Looking at the squad I would stick with van Zyl for the remainder of the series, he would know that it is do or die for him and would not be able to complain about chances not given although it is not in his ideal position.
The other selection challenge is, what will happen to Chris Morris? The all-rounder bowled well, batted like a number 6 and was the best fielder on both sides at Newlands.
Kyle Abbott has been passed fit and has been impressive whenever called upon for The Proteas whilst Dale Steyn is still 50/50.
It would be hard to ignore a fit Dale Steyn but Morris will feel aggrieved if he was to miss out on selection. Besides the quality in his bowling, the big positive coming out of Newlands was his batting and fielding, he lengthens the batting line up which is a much needed plus.