The good news is that Hashim Amla played his first game in more than a month on Sunday and the less good news is he did not exactly shoot the lights out.
The worse news is neither did one of his theoretical rivals for a place in SA’s World Cup squad.
Before Sunday‚ Amla was last in action on March 1 in a ODI game for the Cobras against the Lions at Newlands. He took temporary leave to help look after his ailing father and all the while speculation has swirled. Without much game time what kind of form would he be in by the time SA play their World Cup opener against England at the Oval on May 30?
The 108 not out and 59 he made in the ODI series against Pakistan in January was a relief for those wondering whether his star had faded to grey‚ but the fact that he has gone 27 completed Test innings without a century has made others wonder whether he would be a liability at the tournament.
Would you pick Hash?
“Yes‚” former selection convenor Andrew Hudson said on Monday in unusually clipped tones because he was speaking from the splendour of a fairway at Champagne Castle in the Drakensberg.
Why would he pick him?
“He knows English conditions very well and I’d give him a chance ahead of a youngster who maybe hasn’t been there much before.”
So the Cobras’ confirmation on Friday that Amla was available “for at least the opening matches” in the T20 competition was welcomed as a sign of normal service resuming imminently.
And there he duly was at the Wanderers on Sunday‚ opening the batting with Janneman Malan against the Lions. Amla took three runs‚ all singles‚ to midwicket and third man‚ off the first six balls he faced‚ then he cracked a short and wide effort from Dwaine Pretorius past point for four. A single and a two came in the same over‚ and in the next‚ bowled by Wiaan Mulder.
Amla whipped a delivery on his legs over midwicket for six. It was sent on its way with the same inexplicable ease cricket-minded people have been admiring since before he made his first-class debut in December 1999‚ aged 16.
Could the stroke be evidence that he is getting back to the player he has been for the almost 20 years that have followed?
The question was answered swiftly and decisively.
Amla tried to tickle the next delivery to third man‚ like a right-handed Kepler Wessels‚ with a bat too wide of his body for the purpose. The resultant edge spilled the bails from his stumps‚ and that was that: 16 off 12‚ not the stuff grand comebacks are made of.
But it was a touch better than Reeza Hendricks‚ who opened for the Lions and scored 11 off 13 before trying to hit the 14th a long way using only half his bat and being caught at mid-on.
Hendricks did his chances of going to the World Cup no harm by making 65 and 66 in the last two T20s SA played against Sri Lanka in March. That followed his meagre mustering of 42 in four innings in the ODIs‚ 29 of them in one innings.
So Hendricks‚ too‚ will have to do better. He should get the chance to do so against the Dolphins at Kingsmead on Wednesday — when the Cobras will be in Benoni to play the Titans.
Will we see Amla in that match? And should we wonder whether what he did on Sunday and might do on Wednesday will have any impact on whether his name will be among the 15 Linda Zondi will present next Thursday as SA’s World Cup squad?
What about Hendricks? Is there room for both?
Then there is Aiden Markram‚ who made 63 for Hampshire against Essex in their opening round of championship matches in Southampton on Friday‚ and who is also in the mix to partner Quinton de Kock at the top of the order at the World Cup.
This will not help answer those questions‚ but Amla has played 41 first-class matches in England along with 39 white-ball games. Hendricks? Three T20 internationals‚ six list A games‚ and 16 in the Lancashire League.
Hudson stopped having to think about that kind of thing when he stepped aside in 2015 and was succeeded by Zondi‚ who is no doubt looking forward to some golf himself.
Maybe after next Thursday.