Cape Town – What an exhausting rush! And all before a ball has been bowled …
The hype surrounding South Africa’s 2019 Cricket World Cup squad announcement reached new heights on Thursday and at around 13:20 we eventually had our answers.
Hashim Amla, despite question marks over his eyesight, form and mental state given the personal issues he has dealt with recently, has been backed for a third trip to a World Cup.
It is impossible not to feel for Reeza Hendricks who did all he could to push for his inclusion.
The 29-year-old lost the race to Amla and Aiden Markram, who simply bashed the door down with some scintillating innings’ for the Titans over the last six weeks.
While Hendricks did enough to stay in the race until the very last stretch, he simply didn’t score big enough runs, consistently enough, and fell just short.
We know that it was a very, very close call, but in the end, sanity has surely prevailed.
Amla might not be in his best touch currently, but having him on that plane provides an immediate sense of relief and a reassurance that the Proteas have proven pedigree in their top order.
He is one of the best batsmen South Africa has ever produced in white ball cricket and his numbers – he has 7 910 runs at an average of 49.74 in 174 ODIs – back that up.
Perhaps more importantly, Amla averages over 60 in ODI cricket in England.
In the hours before the squad announcement, the thought of a World Cup travelling party without Amla became increasingly daunting.
There are just certain players that you back, regardless of form, and Amla is rightly considered one of them.
He enters the World Cup a sleeping giant.
Once the dust has settled on the naming of the squad, attention will quickly shift towards who should open the batting alongside Quinton de Kock in the tournament opener against England at The Oval on May 30.
Markram will be in the running for that responsibility, but now that Amla has booked his ticket it is difficult to see anyone else doing the job.
Amla has scored just 61 runs in his five CSA T20 Challenge innings since returning from a month off to attend to his critically ill father, but the selectors obviously believe that he is still seeing the ball well enough.
There can, after all, be no room for picking a player on sentiment when the business is as serious as a World Cup. If captain Faf du Plessis, coach Ottis Gibson and the selectors thought for a second that Amla was done, then he would not be going to England.
Cape Cobras coach Ashwell Prince, Du Plessis, Gibson … all have said that Amla has been looking just fine in the nets of late, even if he has not been producing in the middle with the consistency we have become accustomed to.
Perhaps, now that the conversation is over, Amla can play with more freedom for the remainder of the CSA T20 Challenge and, hopefully, start scoring some runs.
I think South Africa will start their campaign with Amla at the top of the order, but if it doesn’t go well for him, then Markram is a more than capable replacement.
Because of all he has achieved, Amla has so much more to offer than batting alone.
He is a leader, a calming influence and a man who is respected by all of those around him, both young and old.
If you think Amla has reached the end of the road, then you’re entitled to that opinion. You may even be right, and time will tell if you are.
The true greats, however, find a way to perform when it matters most, and it will never matter more than it does at a World Cup.
Anybody playing against Amla will know what he is capable of, and his will always be one of the biggest South African wickets for opposition attacks, regardless of form.
Write him off at your own peril …
South Africa’s 2019 Cricket World Cup squad:
Faf du Plessis (captain), Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, JP Duminy, Aiden Markram, David Miller, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje, Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Dale Steyn, Imran Tahir, Rassie van der Dussen
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