CAPE TOWN – The long-awaited return to form of Hashim Amla seems to have begun, and just in time too. Yes, I know you’re thinking those were just warm-up matches against Sri Lanka (Proteas won by 87 runs) and West Indies (match abandoned to due to rain), they don’t mean anything, they don’t count. Except that sometimes they do matter, and they do have meaning beyond their status as dress rehearsals for the main event.
Amla has been desperate for runs before the ICC Cricket World Cup, yes, but because of his two impressive knocks, another big question has been answered for the Proteas: who will open the batting with Quinton de Kock? Scores of 65 and 51 by Amla have put that question to bed and the Proteas will go into their first match against hosts England with a sense of certainty upfront; something they haven’t had over the past few months while Amla struggled with his form. Confidence is an important factor at World Cups, and this boost had been timely.
The true test, of course, comes on Thursday, and though no team is about just one man, the Proteas perform so much better when Amla is in good nick. The Zen Warrior, as he is sometimes referred to, will no doubt take it in his unflappable stride.
Staying in London, and there was a disappointment for the Blitzboks at the HSBC London Sevens after they lost in the quarterfinals to finalists Australia, who then went on to be humiliated by Fiji in the final. Fiji retains their London title, and the tournament now moves to Paris next week.
It wasn’t all bad news for the Blitzboks though. They managed to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games by virtue of being in the top four of the World Series after England performed poorly in London.
USA, Fiji and New Zealand are the other three teams to qualify.
It was an emotional day at the Monaco Grand Prix on Sunday. When Formula One paused to remember Niki Lauda, the legend who passed away last week, another legend in the making, Lewis Hamilton drove to victory with composure and exceptional skill. Hamilton saw off aggressive challenges from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and had to delicately handle tyres that were wearing thin. In the end, he won comfortably after Red Bull were penalized for releasing Verstappen unsafely. Hamilton and Mercedes are beginning to show the dominance that Michael Schumacher and Ferrari showed in the early 2000s. It will take a special effort to beat Hamilton and Mercedes in the championship, which is already looking like a one-horse race unless Ferrari can pull out something special in the near future.
In Super Rugby, the Sharks’ 27-17 win over the Lions means they go second in the South African Conference behind the ever-impressive Jaguares, who beat the Waratahs 23-15.
Meanwhile, the Stormers seem to have found some attacking form, defeating the Highlanders 34-15 in Cape Town on Saturday. They now travel to the Highveld to play the Lions who have some pride to salvage in Johannesburg. There is nothing much separating the South African conference teams at this late stage of the Super Rugby tournament, so expect some classic encounters over the next two weeks.
One team that may be feeling a little battered today is the South African under-20 team who lost to Argentina 5-2 on Saturday. It was always going to be a tough test for Amajita but Argentina are a class above many teams. It didn’t help that in the 63rd minute Amajita were reduced to 10 players after Keenan Phillips was sent off for kicking an opponent. They’ll have a chance to redeem themselves when they play South Korea on Tuesday.
Over in Rabat, it’s advantage to Esperance after a 1-1 draw Wydad Casablanca in the first leg of the CAF Champions League final.