Amla keen to master Twenty20 cricket
Given Hashim Amla's colossal recent form, finding a weakness in his game seems a frivolous exercise. Beyond the mountain of runs, a Test average breaching 65 over the last three years and an ODI average touching 60, he has a gift for playing innings notable as much for their impact as their heft. Amla's reputation as classy, but slow delayed his introduction to limited-overs cricket, but when he arrived in ODIs, his success was almost immediate.
The only format in which he can't claim to be among the best in the world is Twenty20. He has played 10 innings, all as an opener, to score 198 runs at an average of 22 and is yet to record a half-century.
It is not that his cricket is unsuited to the shortest format - he has developed a mindset and ability to score off almost any ball, and few errant deliveries escape the swing of his blade - but for the moment, there is something preventing his success in Twenty20s.
Perhaps he has not yet warmed to the format; a problem not helped by the infrequency of matches. He was less than prolific in his first 34 Tests too, averaging in the low 40s before three centuries in two Tests against India in 2010 burst the dam and heralded the torrent. There has been a concerted effort to tune his game to the ODI format as well, and that has brought spectacular results. Maybe that mental switch has not yet been flipped in Twenty20, and those technical adjustments remain unmade.
Others of his ilk have adapted and thrived in Twenty20. Kumar Sangakkara is more straight lines and precision than Amla's artistry, but Sri Lanka's middle order would seem a shell without him in it. As he showed during his innings against Zimbabwe on Tuesday evening, Sangakkara has developed new modes of scoring, and assumed a more aggressive disposition, even if he can sometimes seem uncomfortable wearing it. Ian Bell has been another who has introduced innovation to remain relevant in the 20-over game. Despite Amla's success in limited-overs cricket, he has not strayed far from convention.
"I'm relatively inexperienced in the Twenty20 format," Amla said on the eve of South Africa's first match of the World Twenty20. "Fortunately I managed to get some runs in England, which helped with the confidence. I am playing in a very good team, and that really helps as well. Batting with guys like Jacques Kallis who have been involved for some time, I'm taking every game as a learning experience."
Amla comes into the tournament in supreme form, and an international reputation that is the best it's ever been. South Africa pack plenty of power in their batting, and with stiff competition for spots in the top four, Amla will need to translate that momentum into telling performances, just to keep his place. If he can provide a calming influence to a side not renowned for keeping their heads in major tournaments, then all the better.
"Every cricketer goes through times in their career where they excel, and I've been very fortunate to fit into that category over the last couple of months," he says. "I don't look too much at the spotlight that comes when you are scoring runs, I just try to keep things simple and hopefully get the team off to a good start."
Amla's impressive run in ODIs has already revealed his hunger to improve and impress at every opportunity. That his Twenty20 numbers have not caught up to the rest of his game will irk him. He will look to make drastic improvements to that record, and South Africa's big-tournament fortunes in general, in the weeks to come.
Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Sri Lanka