Amla's problem with straight balls
Aakash Chopra explains how Hashim Amla has struggled to deal with balls aimed at the stumps
Rightfully, AB de Villiers is being spoken of as the messiah to save South Africa in this ODI series. There have been three press conferences since it was announced that he was available to play again, and in each of them his team-mates were asked about what he brought to the team. These are expected questions. De Villiers is one of South Africa's big four in ODIs. Three were injured before the last match. The fourth has been kept eerily quiet. Therein lies India's biggest success.
The threat of India's spinners and Virat Kohli's machine-like consistency have been the talk of the series, but the fast bowlers have contributed by making sure one of South Africa's big four - the only one to have played through the series - didn't face a ball of spin in the first three ODIs. If he doesn't turn things around, Hashim Amla is on track for one of his worst ODI series. Only twice has he averaged worse than the 18.25 he does now in a series of three matches or longer.
The fastest man to 2000, 3000, 4000, 5000, 6000 and 7000 ODI runs is now in a bit of a rut against excellent planning and spot-on execution from India. As will be the case with ODIs, this is not the first time Amla has struggled to make an impact. Twice before, he has gone through series longer than four matches without a half-century, against India in 2015-16 and against New Zealand in 2016-17, aggregating 89 and 100 runs. However, there was no pattern to his dismissals in either of those failures.
But there is one now. Before Amla went to target the short boundary and hit Kuldeep Yadav against the turn at Wanderers, all his other dismissals have been similar. In fact, the trend began in the second innings of the Centurion Test. Jasprit Bumrah bowled short of a length, the ball skidded through and trapped Amla lbw. The TV cameras showed the India analyst applauding from behind his laptop, which might suggest a plan and it has come to the fore in the ODIs.
Bumrah has dismissed Amla lbw a further two times while Bhuvneshwar Kumar has kissed the inside edge once. Trying to trap Amla in this manner might have been a temptation for bowlers early on in his career, but they were all left disappointed. Not in a long time has any side so systematically tried to beat Amla's inside edge. In that New Zealand series, Amla was lbw once, but to an outswinger that went past his outside edge.
Many legendary fast bowlers have delivered many hundred balls at Amla in international cricket, but no one has ever nailed him lbw more than two times. Bumrah has done it thrice, in one tour.
The deliveries have been similar: slightly short of a length, skidding through, angling or seaming in past the inside edge of Amla's bat, while he has looked to play to leg. Before the start of this tour, 23 out of Amla's 182 dismissals to right-arm pace were lbw. This tour has given him three out of 10.
From the beehive of all the balls India have bowled to Amla, it is clear that they want to pin him on the crease and then go past the inside edge. And in the lead up to the dismissal, they have been careful not to afford him any width. The field placements might have played a part too, making Amla play squarer than he would like. But the execution of this plan, from Bumrah in particular, has been sensational; he got it right the first ball he bowled in the Newlands ODI.
The genius of Amla lies in having played two of the best innings of this tour - the fifties in the Wanderers Test - despite the targeted attack. Back to Johannesburg for the ODI, he began to make adjustments. A Supersport graphic showed he was now moving forward to balls similar to the ones that got him earlier. He hadn't done so earlier.
India are not likely to drop their plan in Port Elizabeth and Amla has shown he will be on the lookout for it. The length of his innings will have a direct consequence on how well South Africa do against the dreaded spinners.