ROHIT SANKAR | 10 FEBRUARY, 2018
Shoddy Form Might Make South Africa Shift Hashim Amla to Middle Order
The South African opener hasn't been at his flamboyant best in the powerplay overs in ODIs
Beating India in the One Dayers was never going to be easy. With AB de Villiers being unavailable for the first three matches and Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock breaking down along the way, South Africa, sorely short of experience and completely clueless against the guile and wile of the twin wrist spinners succumbed to three straight defeats.
What stood out from the losses was the host's lack of application against spin and inexperience in the belly of the batting order. JP Duminy, David Miller and Khaya Zondo have fiddled around with little success against Chahal and Kuldeep, who have picked up 21 of the 30 South African wickets to fall in the series.
What is bizarre is that the Proteas have done little to counter the spin threat. In the first ODI, their batting sans Faf du Plessis had come a cropper against wrist spin and the trend continued right through the series with their most experienced batsman, Hashim Amla, fighting his own battle against Jasprit Bumrah.
Amla's woes against the Mumbai Indians seamer has meant that the Proteas lack an experienced hand in the middle-order with JP Duminy and David Miller apparently not good enough against the spinners.
Bumrah's dismissals of Amla follow a familiar trend. He has a natural variation to bring the ball back into the right hander at an angle. Combine that with the in dip he generates and you have a bowler knocking down the door of Amla's technical deficiencies.
Amla brings the bat down from a wide angle and hence is susceptible to balls coming into him. Most of the time, though, his amazing hand-eye coordination and bat speed make up for the slightly flawed technique but it does get prominent as the pace increases and the ball keeps coming in.
Bumrah bowls in excess of 140kmph on most occasions and has found the exact length to keep Amla stuck at the crease. The South African hasn't been able to bring the bat down in time with the wide angle ensuring that his bat speed is overcome by the marginally extra distance the bat has to cover to meet the ball.
This has resulted in three leg before wicket dismissals against Bumrah across the six matches played in this series (three Tests and first three ODIs).
On the other hand, David Miller and JP Duminy, look all at sea against the spinners and have promised little in the middle-order although Duminy did manage to get a half-century, his first in 15 months, when shoved up the order to no.3.
It is perhaps time for South Africa to ponder a switch in batting position for Hashim Amla. The South African opener hasn't been at his flamboyant best in the powerplay overs in ODIs as he once was and this has adversely affected South Africa's starts.
By moving Amla to no.3 or no.4, South Africa can not only steer him clear of Bumrah but also give their batting some much needed boost against the spinners. Amla is a fine player, if not their best, against spin and hasn't been troubled by wrist spin too much in his career. Having Amla in the middle-order would force Kohli and co to atleast think differently. At the moment they have it too easy once Chahal and Kuldeep are into the attack.
But moving Amla to the middle-order would mean that South Africa need another opener in the squad. Aiden Markram opened in the last game and looked fairly comfortable at the top and he would slot in as one of the openers. However, Quinton de Kock is out for the entire series and so South Africa do not have another opening batsman in the squad.
They could perhaps go left-field and move David Miller to the top of the order, something they did in India in 2015 in one ODI. This would give Miller a relief against spinners with the field restrictions and the pace bowlers operating. It would also put some much needed pressure on Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah, both of whom have rarely been perturbed by attacking shots at the start of the innings.
The other option would of course be to call up a reserve opener from the domestic circuit. The likes of Rassie van der Dussen, Jon Jon Smuts and Pieter Malan have done a decent job in the Momentum One Day Cup and could get a look in, particularly with Ottis Gibson stating that the net would be thrown wide before the World Cup. Smuts also gives the Proteas an additional spin bowling option which means they finally have a route to escape from JP Duminy's mediocre batting and bowling skills.
Possible squad for fourth ODI : Aiden Markram (capt), JJ Smuts, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, David Miller, Heinrich Klaasen (wk), Chris Morris, Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir, Lungi Ngidi.