Hashim Amla says South Africa’s inability to beat Australia at home in a Test series since its readmission to world cricket more than 20 years ago will be a motivation, rather than a burden, when the teams’ three-match series begins on Wednesday.
Of the 13 series played between the teams in South Africa, the only two to go the way of the home team came in 1966-67 and 1969-70. Since the Proteas’ post-Apartheid readmission Australia has won four of its six touring series.
In the past series here in late 2011 Australia recovered from a crushing loss in Cape Town, when it was humiliated to be all out for 47 in its second innings, to record a stirring series-equalling win in Johannesburg.
South Africa’s failure to win at home has undermined its convincing recent record against the visitors, in which it has won its past two series in Australia, in 2008-09 and 2012-13.
The Proteas are the top-ranked Test team in the world, and have lost only one of their past 25 series, stretching seven years. That series defeat was at home to Australia five years ago.
Amla, ranked second in the world for Test batsmen and fourth for one-dayers, rejected the suggestion the Proteas were burdened by having failed in six attempts in the past 20 years to beat Australia at home.
“It’s probably a motivation factor in one aspect. In another aspect, I don’t think we’re going to play too much on it,” he said on Monday, as the Proteas trained at Centurion Park ahead of the match.
“Over the past few series we’ve played against Australia we have had success, and it would be nice to translate that success into a home series.
“Both teams are very competitive teams.
“We hope we can get a victory at home, for our home crowd.”
Amla is unflappable on the pitch, and he replicated that trait off it when asked about career revival of Mitch Johnson during Australia’s home summer, when he was man of the series against England, bowling at express pace.
“I didn’t get a chance to watch much of the Ashes. To be quite honest with you it was my off-time so I took it as off-time, as I was busy with domestic stuff,” he said.
“We’ve played against Australia quite a few times before over the past few years, and (predominantly) the same bowling attack as well, so I don’t think it will be a much of a difference for us in the way we approach this Test series.”
While England appeared to have underestimated Johnson’s improved form since his preceding Ashes appearances in 2010-11 Amla argued the Proteas knew what to expect from the hostile left-armer.
“The surprise factor is valuable for any team. (But) I don’t think in this series there’s too many surprise factors, because both teams have played against each other (often) over the past few years,” he said.
One who could be more of a surprise to the Proteas, however, is relentless Australian paceman Ryan Harris, who has only played one match against them, in Cape Town in late 2011, when he took 4-33 in the first innings and had Amla twice dropped on 27 in the second as he went on to make a pivotal century and the home team triumphed.
Amla said he was not surprised that someone who did not make his Test debut until six months after his 30th birthday had, despite ongoing battles with injury, risen to be the third ranking for Test bowlers, behind Amla’s countrymen Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn.
“We’ve seen it over many years, cricketers coming through a bit later than normal and being highly successful,” he said.
“Obviously Ryan Harris has done well for Australia, but we haven’t played him much against him. I’m sure it will be a good series for him to play a bit more in South Africa.”
Number-three batsman Amla, who has averaged 51.1 across his 11 Tests against Australia, said he was optimistic about how the Proteas would cope in their first series without recently retired champion all-rounder Jacques Kallis.
“I don’t think I’ll play any more of a senior role than I have been playing. A player like Jacques, you’re not going to replace him in a hurry, but by the same token it’s given them team a different dynamic, a different way of approaching things,” he said.
“Obviously the captain and the coach and the powers that be decided how they’d like to take the team forward. We all knew Jacques would have to retire at some stage, and there was a contingency plan for that.
“It will be quite exciting to have a team with a different type of flavour. But without a doubt someone like Jacques is going to be missed. That goes without saying.”
Faf du Plessis will be promoted in the batting order to fill Kallis’ position at number four. The battle for Kallis’ spot in the team is believed to be between bowling all-rounder Ryan McLaren and left-arm paceman Wayne Parnell.
Australia is expected to select uncapped Tasmanian batsman Alex Doolan in its team for the series-opening match. The other batting vacancy, in place of the injured Shane Watson, could be filled by any of Shaun Marsh, Phillip Hughes or Watson’s fellow all-rounder Moises Henriques.
Australia vice-captain Brad Haddin said the Proteas “deserve the tag of being favourites”, but would relish the opportunity to disproved those expectation of a home-team victory.
“These are the moments you want to play Test cricket for, to test yourself away from home against, clearly, the number-one cricket team in the world,” he said on Monday.
Haddin, like Amla, highlighted the impact Kallis had during his illustrious career with the Proteas, but backed them to cope without him, if not directly replace him.
“I don’t think you can replace a player like that. You can probably argue he’s one of the best players ever to play this game of cricket,” the in-form wicketkeeper said.
“He’s going to be a big loss to them, but they’ve got a lot of players in that top-six so they’ll fill it.”
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