Centurion: Struggling South African batting star Hashim Amla will return to his number three position in the first Test against Pakistan, starting at SuperSport Park on Wednesday, with the full backing of captain Faf du Plessis.
"Hash has been our rock at number three," said Du Plessis ahead of a series featuring two strong bowling attacks and two potentially fragile batting line-ups.
Du Plessis acknowledged that Amla, 35, had slipped from his previous high standards, scoring only 444 runs at an average of 23.36 since his last century, against Bangladesh in October 2017.
Amla was moved down to number four in the order for South Africa's most recent Test, against Sri Lanka in Colombo in July, with Theunis de Bruyn filling the number three slot and making a century.
"There was a reason for that," said Du Plessis. "In Sri Lanka we needed that (Amla) experience against the spin and we felt it was easier for Theunis as a new player to come in when the ball was still a little bit harder."
But Du Plessis said De Bruyn would drop down to number six against Pakistan behind Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Amla, Temba Bavuma and Du Plessis in what he described as a "normal batting line-up".
Amla had a string of low scores and was dropped by his Durban Heat franchise during a recent Twenty20 tournament.
But Du Plessis said he was encouraged that Amla had scored 61 in the second innings of a franchise match for the Cape Cobras last week.
"What is important is time in the middle. Hashim knows he hasn't scored the amount of runs he would have liked in the last year but it's a new season and he's fresh, coming off a fifty.
"It is important for him to get off to a good start in this series, just to settle the nerves and be confident. Hashim technically he is one of the most sound players in the world."
'Get them in trouble early'
Du Plessis said South Africa's experience of home conditions could give them the edge over Pakistan.
"There are two very good bowling attacks," said Du Plessis, anticipating that pitches would offer assistance to bowlers through the three-match series.
"It is going to be a challenge for the batting units."
He said Pakistan would face a similar situation to India and Australia, who were both beaten in Test series in South Africa last season.
"Our batsmen are used to playing in these conditions. If you can get them (Pakistan) in trouble early there's something in their middle order you can work with. Hopefully we can put some doubts in their batsmen."
Du Plessis admitted, though, that he was not certain how the Centurion pitch would play after a Test against India last season was played on a dry surface that the South Africans felt suited the Indians.
"I'm not sure," he said. "It looks a bit greener. Last season they tried to leave grass on but it all burnt dead. I like clarity for a Test at home."
Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed said that fast bowler Mohammad Abbas had not recovered enough from a shoulder injury to be considered for the first Test, leaving Pakistan with three front-line seam bowlers in Mohammad Amir, Hasan Ali and Shaheen Afridi.
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