PROTEAS CHASE WHITE­WASH

What bet­ter way to cel­e­brate Amla’s 100th Test than with an­other win?

The Star Early Edition - - FRONT PAGE - STU­ART HESS

THE weather in Jo­han­nes­burg this past week­end has matched the mood of many cricket sup­port­ers these past few days – grim.

It shouldn’t be, not in a sea­son when the South African cricket side has bounced back so mag­nif­i­cently fol­low­ing all the tri­als and tribu­la­tions of the 2015/16 sum­mer. There is much to cel­e­brate – a Test se­ries win against New Zealand, a white­wash of the World Cup hold­ers Aus­tralia in a One-Day se­ries, a Test se­ries win in Aus­tralia and an­other Test se­ries win against Sri Lanka. And yet, less than a week on from what Faf du Plessis de­scribed as a “pretty per­fect per­for­mance”, in the New Year’s Test, the mood in lo­cal cricket cir­cles is a dark one, the dam­age done and still to be done to the lo­cal game as a Kol­pak ex­o­dus seem­ingly gath­ers steam leav­ing many glum.

So the onus shifts to those who will take to the Wan­der­ers on Thurs­day to turn at­ten­tion back onto what the Proteas have done well so far this sea­son and in the case of one in­di­vid­ual it’s an op­por­tu­nity to cel­e­brate a mile­stone in the ca­reer of one of best to don the dark green cap.

Hashim Amla will be­come the eighth South African to play 100 Tests and that land­mark ar­rives at in­ter­est­ing point in his ca­reer.

Amla’s form lately has, by com­par­i­son with the rest of his il­lus­tri­ous ca­reer, been poor. It’s been 10 in­nings since he last reached 50, while his last Test hun­dred was against Eng­land a year ago. To be fair to Amla, it’s not as if his run of low scores has been down to any rash shots, just that in Josh Ha­zle­wood – who dis­missed him in all five in­nings in Aus­tralia – and Sri Lanka’s Su­ranga Lak­mal he’s come up against a pair of seam­ers that have bowled in the right chan­nel ev­ery time. And then of course the ball he got in the first in­nings at New­lands from Sri Lankan rookie Lahiru Ku­mara was a peach.

As var­i­ous team­mates and one for­mer col­league in the shape of Jac­ques Kal­lis have men­tioned, a big one is just around the cor­ner for Amla and many will be hop­ing he can mark the oc­ca­sion of his 100th match with some­thing spe­cial.

The other ma­jor talk­ing point in the build up to the fi­nal Test is who will re­place Kyle Ab­bott in the start­ing XI. If the Proteas’ re­cent his­tory is to be fol­lowed, it should be Wayne Par­nell, who has got some game time un­der his belt hav­ing par­tic­i­pated in the Cape Co­bras’s Sun­foil Se­ries match against the Lions that fin­ished in Oudt­shoorn yes­ter­day. Par­nell bowled 48.3 overs and picked up six wick­ets.

Mean­while Duanne Olivier, called up to the squad last week, didn’t get onto the field at all in Bloem­fontein where the Knights’ match against the Ti­tans was called off after two days owing to in­clement weather. Nev­er­the­less he has a sea­son of ex­cel­lent work be­hind him and as the Sun­foil Se­ries’ lead­ing wicket taker his call-up is cer­tainly jus­ti­fied. Olivier, and Par­nell for that mat­ter, will find the Wan­der­ers to their lik­ing.

De­spite the in­clement weather grounds­man Bethuel Buthelezi is sure to have the pitch in good shape to favour the seam­ers as has been the case for the first two matches in Port El­iz­a­beth and Cape Town. The Wan­der­ers will of course prob­a­bly be quicker and of­fer more carry than was the case at the two coastal venues.

Du Plessis spoke about the im­por­tance of South Africa “max­imis­ing home con­di­tions,” just as many other in­ter­na­tional sides have done in re­cent years. And while the pitches in Cape Town and PE were hardly ‘green mam­bas’ they suited the Proteas more than they did the Sri Lankans.

Du Plessis is tar­get­ing a se­ries white­wash. In nearly 130 years of Test play, South Africa has only swept a se­ries (of three or more matches) on three oc­ca­sions.

The tar­get from Thurs­day will be to make it four and hope­fully give the South African cricket pub­lic some­thing else to think about be­sides Kol­pak.

PIC­TURE: BACKPAGEPIX

TAR­GET IN MIND: Faf du Plessis and his Protea team want to blank Sri Lanka at the Wan­der­ers to se­cure their fourth Test se­ries white­wash, and cel­e­brate Hashim Amla’s 100th Test match in style.

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