South Africa lost the second ODI against Sri Lanka by 87 runs, thanks largely to an inept batting performance. Hashim Amla was the only player to score any runs of significance, making his second successive hundred. No other player passed 30 and only two other players got into double figures, one of them an injured tail-ender.
Despite Sri Lanka losing their last five wickets for just 11 runs, South Africa failed to take advantage of a chaseable total.
What did stand out once again, though, was just how much South Africa depended on Amla and De Villiers doing well. The Proteas are seemingly in a quandary of over-reliance on two of their most talented batsmen. This reliance is very notable in one-day cricket, perhaps because they are some of South Africa’s most consistent players, even when dips in forms happen.
Amla is undoubtedly in a purple patch. Nobody has ever doubted his talent, but form comes and goes. He has scored 527 runs at an average of 75.28 in his last seven ODIs. His preceding 13 knocks brought him 326 runs at an average of 25.1. For Amla, his blips in form rarely last long. And alongside AB de Villiers, the two have been the mainstays of the team for the last ten years.
Together, Amla and De Villiers have been immense. They have scored 2,165 runs batting together, the second most out of any other partnerships in the same time period. Their runs have come in fewer innings and at a much higher average than the Graeme Smith-De Villiers partnership, which tops the table.
Out of those partnerships, just four players are currently still playing one-day cricket and one of them (Jacques Kallis) is short on form. Amla and Quinton de Kock had a successful run last year and have managed 736 runs in their 13 innings together, but De Kock is looking amateurish on Sri Lankan turf and far from the run-scoring machine he was last year.
Out of those who made their ODI debuts in the last five years and who are still playing, only Faf du Plessis features in the top 20 for most successful partnerships for South Africa. In 18 innings, he and JP Duminy have scored 638 runs together. Part of the problem has been the lack of consistency in selection. During Gary Kirsten’s tenure, he was prone to handing out ODI caps like Oprah Whinfrey hands out gifts on her “favourite things” show.
It is harsh to take a ten-year time span into account and judge younger players on their ability to break into that, but with increasingly batsman-friendly pitches, it would be expected that a few more familiar faces are in the top 20.
Since January 2012, the reliance on Amla and De Villiers has become starkly evident. Together they have scored 1,015 runs at an average of 92.27. The second highest partnership is De Kock and Amla, who have 736 runs at an average of 56.61. Worryingly for South Africa, only one other partnership of five or more innings in the top ten averages over 40.
South Africa’s batsmen have struggled with their decision-making, especially when under pressure. Building partnerships and staying calm, especially in the middle and lower order, has been a struggle at times. With the World Cup in mind, that’s one of the key focus areas for South Africa. There is nothing wrong with having “reliable” players, but when that descends into dependence, a team can often fall apart.
Perhaps it is not so much reliance as it is freakish talent between these two players. Since January 2012, they are only the sixth most successful partnership in terms of runs, but they have batted together for far fewer innings and their runs have come at a far higher average and at the highest run-rate out of everyone in the top five.
Amla and De Villiers are two freakishly talented players whom South Africa are very lucky to have. Their stats are outstanding, their temperaments are immense and their achievements are out of this world. However, with a World Cup coming up, South Africa will need some of their other players to step up, too, if they want to have any hope of getting close to winning the thing. DM
Photo: South African cricketer AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla (L) together during the ICC World Cup cricket match, Netherlands v South Africa, at the Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) Stadium, in Mohali, India, 03 March 2011. EPA/HARISH TYAGI
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