It is always sad to see a great batsman struggle for runs. His timing, normally so sweet, is all awry, his bat full of edges and ungainly nudges, the runs dry up and the big scores once associated with him are now a mirage. Hashim Amla is going through this sort of traumatic phase when nothing is going right for him.

The records against Amla’s name are are legion. The only South African to score a triple hundred in a Test, he peaked at a career average of 51 not too long ago and maintained that for quite a while. With 28 hundreds he is second only to Jacques Kallis among South Africans. Switching gears effectively to ODIs Amla ran up world records galore, the fastest batsman to 2000, 3000, 4000, 5000, 6000 and 7000 runs in addition to having the most hundreds in this format by a South African (27).

More than just being a prolific run getter Amla is acknowledged as the classiest batsman in the side. The Oriental touch in his wristy strokeplay allied to a calm temperament has made him one of the most difficult batsmen to bowl to in international cricket. His prodigious gifts even saw him make a smooth transition to T-20 cricket. But are all the happy moments now a thing of the past? The way things have been shaping up for Amla over the last year and a half it could well be. Even for a batsman of Amla’s stature it could be difficult to get back his touch for he turns 36 later this month and time is not on his side.

Amla’s last Test 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. He has scored just 704 runs at an average of 26. His career 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.

To some extent his run of failures can be attributed to the tracks prepared at home. South African fast bowling is at its peak and eager to capitalize on their main strength the authorities have prepared fast and bouncy tracks. But by playing to their 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.

Perhaps no other batsman symbolizes the manner in which the South Africans are being besieged as Amla. However he is such a classy player that one is hesitant to say that Amla can perform only on a good batting surface. After all he has scored runs in every country, in all conditions and on all kinds of surfaces over the last 15 years.

Amla’s ODI form remains good – he averages almost 50 in this format – but ironically he was dropped from the squad to play Sri Lanka in the ongoing series. The selectors obviously felt it would be better for Amla to stay away from the spotlight for some time so that he can regain confidence just before the World Cup which he is almost certain to play. But perhaps the time has come for them to drop Amla from the Test squad. It will be a tough even unpopular decision but sometimes these have to be taken in the larger interests of the team.