South Africa hopeful of Amla's availability
South Africa and Pakistan have five days before the second Test but Hashim Amla's next fixture starts today. The No. 3 batsman is headed back to South Africa for the birth of his second child and described the trip as being similar to a stint in the middle.
"It's a waiting game in many respects, a bit of a Test match actually," Amla said. "'I'll just have to see what happens." The baby's due date has not been revealed but he or she is expected to arrive fairly soon, according to team manager Mohammad Moosajee.
Amla will have precious little time with his new-born because he is in a race against time to be back for the second Test. "Whenever it does happen, soon after that I'll try and get back here," he confirmed. Moosajee said as long as Amla arrived in Dubai by Tuesday, he would be able to play the second Test.
If he doesn't make it by then, South Africa will have to replace Amla, their only centurion from the first Test, with a far less experienced player. They have two choices in that regard with the most likely one being to bring in Dean Elgar for Amla. Elgar was dropped to make room for JP Duminy in the middle order after playing just six Test matches.
Although he scored a century against New Zealand in January, Elgar has been unconvincing at the highest level. That may be because he is playing out of his regular spot, higher up in the order, and a move to No.3 could help kickstart his international career. Even if Amla returns, Elgar could replace Alviro Petersen, who has not passed 30 in his last eight Test innings.
South Africa's other option is to ask Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers to move up and to slot in the specialist wicketkeeper Thami Tsolekile at No. 7. South Africa have been reluctant to play Tsolekile despite keeping him as a passenger for the last three tours, and if they go that route it would represent a significant departure from their seven batsmen strategy.
After one defeat, it may also be too drastic a move for them to make despite the continued struggles of Faf du Plessis, who has not managed a half-century since a hundred against New Zealand in the same match Elgar scored his maiden ton. He has also looked tentative against spin.
Still, South Africa may not want to make too many knee-jerk changes to a unit that has been successful bar the previous match because, as Amla explained, they expect they tried and trusted to perform.
"We know where we have gone wrong and the guys take a lot of pride in their performance. We haven't been up to par," he said. "Guys will just go back, adjust where they've gone wrong and lot of hard work will be put in in the training sessions."
Amla was the only one of the XI to have played first-class cricket in the month leading up to this series and showed temperament the rest could not muster. His efforts were put down to mindset but Amla denied he is tougher than anyone else in that department. "I don't think I am mentally strong. I am just trying to contribute in each game," he said. "Tomorrow will be somebody else's chance, the next day will be somebody else's chance."
South Africa would want to prove him right, especially because both Amla and Graeme Smith said totals of 400 and beyond are what's needed to compete in these conditions. "I don't think it was a 250 wicket, especially in the first innings," Amla said. "400 was probably a par total."
In batting-friendly conditions, South Africa's line-up was expected to post that and more. They were out-thought and outplayed, but Amla said they did not underestimate their opposition. "I don't think we were surprised by how well Pakistan played. We knew they are a good team, especially in these conditions. On the whole, they just played better cricket than us. The seamers bowled well and the spinners backed it up on a wicket that didn't turn a great deal but turned enough to make it difficult."
Pakistan have promised a similarly challenging pitch for the second Test which means having Amla back will be crucial. The last time paternity leave kept him out of the game, in January 2012, South Africa were playing an ODI series against Sri Lanka. Amla played the first two in the five match series, scored a century and a fifty and South Africa won both games.
He missed the following three matches, of which South Africa lost two. Their opening partnership, a combination of Smith, Colin Ingram and Petersen managed less than 20 runs in two of those matches. That is a small example underlining Amla's worth to the team and, for South Africa, a reason to hope his Test match back home is over as quickly as possible.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent