Amla relaxed ahead of big series
Batsmen from both South Africa and Australia have promised to be as positive as possible in this series but Hashim Amla will employ a more careful than usual approach to one thing: he decides to leave the ball, given his recent Test dismissals.
"I will try not to get out freakishly again," he said, making no effort to hide his grin. Amla was dismissed both times in the Johannesburg Test against India when he didn't offer a shot - first by shouldering arms to Ishant Sharma and then when he misjudged his attempt to take evasive action against an Mohammed Shami delivery that kept low.
With just 3 in the only innings of the second Test in Durban, Amla had a rare quiet time. The 43 runs he scored was the least he has managed in any series since the second one after he made his debut, against England in 2004-05 when he compiled 36. Given Amla's prolific run in recent years, South Africa's management are unlikely to be too concerned about that statistic, because they will probably expect Amla to come back in a big way against Australia.
That is, after all, the Amla world cricket has come to know. Someone who responds to being dropped by going on to make the opposition pay. Someone who, despite his shying away of leadership in an official sense, is willing to fulfil the role through his own example.
Amla has not spent the past six weeks fretting over his form. He turned out for his new franchise, the Cobras, where he played a massive part in their march to the final. For about the first three-quarters of the league stage of the competition, Amla was the leading run-scorer. He scored three half-centuries to add to the 57 he made in an exhibition north-south derby to prove his touch was fine as it ever been.
Because the national players were instructed to take a seven-day break from active competition, Amla could only play in eight of the ten matches the Cobras and he missed yesterday's final because the Test squad was already in camp. His absence meant he was pipped at the post by David Miller and Quinton de Kock on the run-scorers' chart but still ended up third on the list.
Amla said time in the middle rather than any change to his approach helped him get his groove back. "As a batsman you keep things the same wherever you play," he said. "You assess the pitch on the day, the tempo of the game and the circumstances on which you are going to be batting. Sometimes the game of cricket requires a combination of many things to succeed."
One of those factors is the venue and it seems Amla has taken a special liking to SuperSport Park. It is the ground on which he averages 84.75 from seven Test matches, including three centuries. Another factor will be team dynamic. For the first time in 18 years, South Africa go into a series without Jacques Kallis and although Faf du Plessis will bat in his place at No. 4, Amla will have to shoulder some of the responsibility.
"We're not going to replace Jacques and we know that," he admitted. "It's given the team a different dynamic and a different way of approaching things. It will be quite exciting. We will have a different type of flavour."
South Africa will likely add a lower-order allrounder to their XI in Kallis' absence, which will mean a different line-up to the seven specialist batsmen they have gone in with since July 2012. The Australians have spoken about that being an area they can exploit but Amla doesn't think so.
Despite all the hype about the quality of Australia's attack, Amla explained South Africa are familiar enough with their opposition to know what to expect and how to succeed against them. "We've played against Australia with the same bowling attack quite recently. There won't be much difference in how we approach this series," he said. "In the last few series, we've had some good success over Australia away. It would be nice to translate that into a good series at home this time."
Amla did not even buy into the big build-up, much of which has centered on the fact that South Africa have an opportunity to beat Australia in a home series for the first time since readmission. "I don't think it's felt different to when we've played Australia before," he said, shouldering arms to the journalists probing far more than he will at the crease against Australia's bowlers.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent