Opinion: Amla - lynchpin or weak link

Fielder throws cricket ball in

In nine matches, before the Boxing day Test against Pakistan, Hashim Amla had scored 439 runs in 2018 at an average of 24.38 - hardly the return expected from a senior professional.

Amla delivered only one really impressive display in a Proteas win in 2018 - his 82 against India at Centurion was vital to the outcome of that series, though. That kind of knock was an example of why Amla remains in the team after a poor year.

The retirement of AB de Villiers almost certainly averted any plans to give Amla the axe, given that the options to replace the 35-year-old are made up largely of completely uncapped players or those with patchy international records.

Another failure on day one of the first Test against Pakistan has ratcheted up the pressure on Amla. The selection of Zubayr Hamza in the squad to face Pakistan suggest that Ottis Gibson is open to leaving Amla on the bench.

The question will be, though, if Amla is left out will he ever return to the Proteas Test XI. There is a likelihood that the final Test against Sri Lanka later this season would be Amla's elected final Test, should he opt for complete retirement after the 2019 World Cup, but he may not be given that option.

Gibson is unlikely to allow sentiment to disturb his long-term plans for Proteas dominance across all three formats - and finding a quality number three for the World Test Championship, which starts right after the ODI World Cup midway through 2019, should be a priority.

The question will be whether the Proteas feel having Amla around will be of sufficient benefit to them in the series against Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It is true that the Proteas are in need of a dominant top-order batsman. Amla has displayed those qualities in the past, but it is unclear if he will ever return to the peak of his powers in the ultimate format of the game.

While Hamza or any other replacement might not deliver dominant displays just yet, the experience gained this summer would stand them in good stead going forward - and accelerate the process of finding a long-term number three.

The Proteas may also have to deal with the retirement of skipper Faf du Plessis in 2019 - and a failure to audition understudies will not be looked on favourably if the captain hangs up his boots in July.

If Amla declared his intent to see out the World Test Championship, then retaining him in the Test line-up would make sense, but with the World Cup looming he might be better off focusing on ODI cricket.

Sentiment may play a very big factor, though, and perhaps Amla's 9,000-plus Test runs have earned him that, but South African cricket could have the makings of a Test batting crisis on their hands at the outset of the inaugural World Test Championship if they don't address succession.

The selectors are faced with an unenviable task - and are unlikely to please everyone, even if the Proteas keep on winning.

Management should not be swayed by sentiment and should put the interests of the team first in the way Amla has always done - it is the right thing to do.

Written by Jonhenry Wilson for Hollywoodbets

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