It's going to be up to Amla to tame England, the World Cup unicorn

04 November 2018 - 00:00 By TELFORD VICE

And the award for the newspaper that has finally broken through the 311, not out, shades of grey Hashim Amla has been trotting out to the press for years goes to ...
"I'm the pretty face on the billboard," Amla was quoted as saying this week in the North Coast Courier in a feature on a luxury housing development he has bought into and, it seems, is helping to market.
The Durban knock-and-drop has found what no publication has hitherto: a chink of mischief in the otherwise solidly stoic edifice Amla has aimed at the world, evidence of a character as upright as his backlift has been askance for the 17,995 runs he has scored in 415 innings in all flavours of South Africa shirts in almost 14 years as an international.
Ball swings more in England
Since July 2012, the pinnacle of all that has been his undefeated 311 at The Oval.
But an even greater prize is within Amla's reach, and his quest to claim it will begin at the same ground on May 30 next year.
That's where South Africa will play England in the opening match of the World Cup, a unicorn Amla is central to taming.
He has scored more ODI runs in England than any other South Africa batsman, and in fewer innings than Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher, Herschelle Gibbs and AB de Villiers. He also has the highest score and the best average among the top six South Africa batsmen there. And all that as an opening batsman, on pitches as fresh as the ball and the bowlers.
But what matters most is that he has been there, done that in 169 ODIs, 18 of them - more than any other active South Africa player - in England.
"You've got to take guys who've got some experience," former selection convenor Andrew Hudson said.
"The ball swings more in England than in other conditions and young guys can struggle there.
"If you've got South African form or Australian form that's nice, but you need guys who've been to England before and know how to play in those conditions.
"It seems you win the World Cup when your senior guys have a blinder. 'Hash' is one of those guys, but he needs to be injury-free and in good form."
Ah, the F-word. There's no denying that Amla's form has dipped from the glittering heights he scaled to score 26 centuries and 36 50s.
He last made an ODI hundred against a decent attack at Centurion in February 2016, when England were the opposition.
But, if South Africa are to break their World Cup duck, Amla will have to fire because, as Hudson conceded, South Africa are short on seasoned quality batsmen: "One of them would have been AB and Faf [du Plessis] is another, but there aren't too many more."
Happily, that doesn't apply to bowlers, even though, as Hudson said, "the length you bowl in England is completely different to what you bowl in South Africa and Australia, and it helps if you can get some swing."
The great unanswerable question
It does, and it's easier to learn to bowl fuller than it is to cultivate the art of swing, something few South Africa quicks have mastered. But it's difficult to look past the threat posed by the sheer pace and bounce harboured by a young, proper fast bowler like Lungi Ngidi in anything other than sub-continent conditions.
If there's room for a bolter in South Africa's World Cup squad, it should go to Dwaine Pretorius, a can bat, can bowl, can field, can bring a good attitude to any situation player who won't let anyone down.
Whether South Africa can win the tournament with the players available to them is the great unanswerable, less so that Amla is key.
Not just a pretty face, then.

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