Hashim Amla [SOUTH AFRICA] – It is insufficient to illustrate the feats of a player of such aesthetic talents with mere numbers, but Hashim Amla, who became South Africa’s first ever Test triple-centurion in his masterly innings of 311* at The Oval in 2012, is accustomed to taking statistical plaudits.
However, Amla’s initial forays into international cricket were considerably less auspicious, as the most aesthetically-pleasing batsman this side of Sangakkara and Laxman struggled to make the grade. His pedestrian start at the highest level is often forgotten, but it is crucial to appreciate the exact context of Amla’s remarkable maturation.
His first fifteen Tests were spread over four calendar years and yielded a solitary century in a high-scoring draw against New Zealand, and an average of just 25.50. Though delightful to watch for a brief flurry, Amla would invariably disappoint with a soft dismissal, and the widely-held suspicion was that he neither had the technique nor temperament to survive against the best.
That all changed in 2010, when Hashim Amla experienced what mere mortals would describe as an annus mirablis, but what has now become de rigueur for him. In ODIs in 2010, Amla scored 1,015 runs @ 75.6, with five centuries and four fifties in just fifteen innings.
In Tests in the same year, he scored five centuries @ 78.06 – Amla’s 2,307 international runs in 2010 are an all-time South African record.
Curiously, being given an opportunity in the shorter forms loosened any shackles that once bound Amla (he played 22 Tests before playing an ODI), and as a consequence his all-round game has improved tremendously in the past few years. Where once we could only see glaring leaks in his porous defence, there are now no obvious weaknesses in Amla’s game.
Recalling Mohammad Yousuf at his very best, Hashim Amla is wonderfully still and calm at the crease, with an artist’s backlift and wrists that an ambidextrous masturbator would be proud of.
He exhibits unparalleled tranquillity, a wonderful serenity under pressure, and it is remarkable that Amla can play with such grace and style on testing home pitches.
Capable of cover-driving off either the front or back foot with a fluency that would make a river swoon, his use of the depth his crease to both attack and defend against spin is another key trait, as an increasingly fraught Graeme Swann found to his cost during that unbeaten 311.
Incredible to see Hashim Amla scoring 300, then fielding at short leg. It’s like watching Jesus serve at a soup kitchen.
— Alternative Cricket (@AltCricket) July 22, 2012
An uncluttered mind and a state of pure zen have transformed Hashim Amla from a player of style sans substance, into a player of substance with style. It is difficult to recall many players who looked more ill-equipped for a lengthy Test career than Amla when he first came on the scene, which makes his current form even more remarkable.
Now, he is South Africa’s undisputed MVP, which is no mean feat in a line-up with Smith, Kallis and de Villiers. When he passes three figures, his remorselessly beautiful mode of destruction offers impressively little let up to the opposition, who can only hope to bore him into an honorable harakiri.
Without doubt, he is also the most popular man in cricket right now, as Amla silently commands respect from both opposition and fans. He refuses to participate in the IPL because of its debauched nature – Hash, you don’t know what you’re missing out on – and also refuses to wear an alcohol company’s logo when playing for South Africa, and so Hashim Amla is known as a man who values his own integrity over his wallet.
Amla the man mirrors Amla the batsman, and it seems almost impossible to find anyone within cricket with a unpleasant word to say of him. In 2006, however, former Australia batsman Dean Jones, when working as a commentator for Ten Sports, responded to Amla, a devout Muslim, taking a catch to dismiss Kumar Sangakkara in a Colombo Test with the words “the terrorist has got another wicket”.
When Jones subsequently apologised by irrelevantly stating he didn’t mean to say it on air, the response from Amla was witheringly cutting mix of forgiveness and erudition: “We all have some sort of inward prejudices we need to address,” he told an interviewer, with the same phlegmatic elegance he displays in the middle.
Perhaps we all do, but at the moment the only ingrained stereotype any right-thinking cricket fan can possibly have of Hashim Amla is that he has become one of the most divine pleasures of the game.
After his maiden Test century at Cape Town, Amla said: “I hope I will have a long Test career, and maybe if I can score fifty centuries in my career, no-one will question my technique.” Many scoffed at the time, and Amla is far too humble to reflect upon those times and let out a subtle, knowing smirk, but in spite of his mellow nature, you wonder if he looks back at his former detractors and derives some modicum of satisfaction.
If not, though, that would be typically zen; typically Hashim.
by James Marsh & the editor