Man in the mo­ment

Hashim Amla’s res­ig­na­tion as Proteas test cap­tain came as a shock to many, but the 32-year-old tells Han­lie Retief it was the best de­ci­sion

CityPress - - Sport -

It’s two days since the Cen­tu­rion test and Hashim Amla has just got home. The Amla home in Dur­ban is bustling with chil­dren and home­com­ing. The Protea team’s Mr Man­ners apol­o­gises for his two-year-old daugh­ter scream­ing blue mur­der in the back­ground – she wants her father’s full at­ten­tion.

“Give me a se­cond.” He leaves to qui­eten her, which starts her cry­ing even louder, and you hear a door clos­ing qui­etly.

“Now we can talk,” Hash sighs with re­lief. Yes, it’s nice to be back home, he says. “The first thing I al­ways do is have a cup of tea with my father and mother.”

His father, Ma­homed, has been a gen­eral prac­ti­tioner in Ton­gaat for years. It’s with their cousins that Hashim and his older brother, Ahmed (a for­mer Dol­phins bats­man), learnt how to bat and bowl. Ahmed, four years older, once joked in an in­ter­view that he taught his brother noth­ing about cricket – he just bul­lied him.

Hash thinks back a long way, to hot af­ter­noons of mini cricket in the park, and his first hard-ball match that changed him for­ever.

“I was nine or so and ner­vous about the hard ball. But I got 18 runs, and a few were bound­aries. Boy, I was sooo very pleased – what can be bet­ter than a bound­ary?” At 32, it is still ex­actly the same. “But of course! The buzz re­mains. What an hon­our to play for your coun­try for 10 years. One thing about this team: we know it’s a priv­i­lege to play for the Proteas, not a right. No­body thinks his place is au­to­matic.” Not even Faf du Plessis? Yes, he laughs. “No­body.” An­nus hor­ri­bilis. That’s how Hashim Amla’s 2015 has been de­scribed.

Un­der his cap­taincy, the Proteas won only four of 14 tests (six ended in a draw) and, in In­dia, they lost their first away test se­ries since 2006. His cap­taincy also left him in his own bat­ting wilder­ness. In eight con­sec­u­tive in­ter­na­tion­als, he scored fewer than 10 runs seven times.

And then, in the middle of the test se­ries against Eng­land, came Amla’s shock­ing news: He was re­sign­ing as cap­tain. “I was sim­ply not good enough.” Peo­ple were up­set about his tim­ing. He should have seen the se­ries through, it was felt.

But Hash dis­agrees. Po­litely. “It would have been even worse if I had waited for things to slip even fur­ther. And with­out the pres­sure, I could help my team with my bat­ting.”

And he did. Re­born, cricket writ­ers said, and his bat­ting now is too. In the Cen­tu­rion test he scored his 25th test cen­tury in the first in­nings and nearly the 26th in the se­cond.

“Yes, I am very grate­ful. I have had a dif­fi­cult sum­mer.”

For South Africans – used to Protea cap­tains with chirpy, gruffer per­son­al­i­ties, like Han­sie Cronje and Graeme Smith – the quiet, re­served, soft-spo­ken cap­tain on the field was as un­usual as curry with boere­wors.

It was said Amla was not speak­ing up enough on the field; there was some­thing wrong in the Proteas’ camp; the cap­tain and the team man­age­ment weren’t lead­ing the young play­ers in a pe­riod of tran­si­tion.

“Of course I tried to get the most out of the guys. I was straight ... strict too. But per­haps some­one else’s strict is stricter than my strict,” he says lightly.

“When I took over as cap­tain, there was a group of se­nior play­ers with a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence. Now there are a lot of young play­ers, and I think a dif­fer­ent cap­tain’s style is likely to get the best out of them.”

It’s said there was political pres­sure on Amla – who had not even wanted to be cap­tain at pro­vin­cial level – to ac­cept the cap­taincy.

“Ab­so­lutely not. Oh, I don’t know who started that kind of ru­mour. The play­ers asked me to throw my name into the hat. So it’s the play­ers, no one else.” He laughs cheer­fully.

With AB de Vil­liers’ three ducks in a row since he took over lead­ing the Proteas, there is talk of the curse of cap­taincy.

“No,” Hash says de­fen­sively. “I’m ter­ri­bly sorry for AB. He’s the best player in the world, but even he is not al­ways Su­per­man. When he be­came cap­tain of the one-day team, his bat­ting moved to a higher gear. As test cap­tain, he will def­i­nitely achieve lots of spe­cial things.”

He and AB have been play­ing to­gether for 10 years. They’re close. “Be­fore I re­signed as cap­tain, I dis­cussed it with him. We ex­change ideas and plans. You know, you spend much more time with your team-mates than with your fam­ily.”

There is no prob­lem with the Proteas’ team spirit, he main­tains. “Young play­ers would cer­tainly not have been able to per­form like they did in a poor en­vi­ron­ment.”

Name Temba Bavuma and Kag­iso Rabada, and he’s clearly ex­cited. “New en­ergy. What a young team we have: not five, but six debu­tants in a month.” (Al­though one of those debu­tants, Stephen Cook, was 33 years old.)

Amla has talked about how much pres­sure there is on black play­ers when they start play­ing for South Africa.

Yes, he re­peats, ev­ery­one won­ders whether they will cope.

“Un­for­tu­nately, you can’t change the way cer­tain peo­ple think. I know how that weight fe els on your shoul­ders. I’ve been there.”

Crit­i­cism is some­thing Amla al­ways takes on the chin. But Ash­well Prince’s crit­i­cism of De Vil­liers (that AB has a “neg­a­tive at­ti­tude”) gets a “whoa” from him, and you hear emo­tion in his voice for the first time. That’s not how he knows AB; AB is “one of the most pos­i­tive play­ers” he knows. He was quoted out of con­text.

And Smith, who was so crit­i­cal of the Proteas’ man­age­ment team?

No com­ment. Only: “We have been try­ing to find a bat­ting coach for a long time, but those we ap­proached said no.” Like Smith him­self? He doesn’t re­ply. Only: “Ev­ery time we are crit­i­cised about it, we think: but we are try­ing. There is now fi­nally pos­si­bly some­one com­ing on board.”

Rock solid, Jac­ques Kal­lis called his old bat­ting part­ner Amla on ESPNcricinfo: “Good head, to­tal con­cen­tra­tion, knows his lim­i­ta­tions and his game plan and car­ries it out.”

Hash’s slightly un­con­ven­tional bat­ting tech­nique ini­tially pro­voked crit­i­cism, and he was even al­most left out of the team. It was a cen­tury against New Zealand that saved his ca­reer in 2007, he told a sports writer. He was given a life with his score on just two runs, and he ended the in­nings with an un­beaten 176. He never looked back and be­came a world star.

And how do you feel when Stu­art Broad comes charg­ing at you at full speed?

“Feel? No, there’s no emo­tion. You are com­pletely in the mo­ment. It’s just you and the cricket ball, no mat­ter who’s bowl­ing. You don’t know what the out­come will be – a six, a sin­gle, a ball that you let go by.

“You don’t think about it, be­cause then you be­come in­volved and your fo­cus shifts.

“Sooo ... you bat that ball en­tirely on its merit. As best you can – oth­er­wise you’re on your way back to the pav­il­ion.” He grins. It’s a bit like life? “Well, I don’t want to be philo­soph­i­cal,” he says, but then is. “It’s to be in the mo­ment, not to look too far ahead; not to worry about what hap­pened in the past. Nar­row your fo­cus to ev­ery sin­gle ball. That’s the the­ory. The prac­tice is much more dif­fi­cult and some­times you get away with mis­takes; other times not.”

The Ice­man. The rea­son for this nick­name is sim­ple: the man hardly sweats. When he scored his triple cen­tury at The Oval in Lon­don in 2012, he did not change his gloves once dur­ing his marathon in­nings.

“Well, I did once, many years ago in In­dia, change my gloves, but it was a very hot day ... very hot.” He tries to dis­pel the leg­end, but only re­in­forces it.

Is there any­thing that can up­set the mighty Hash?

“Yes, of course, but the more ex­pe­ri­ence, the less likely that some­thing will catch you un­awares. You can’t buy ex­pe­ri­ence at the su­per­mar­ket.”

He has two he­roes in cricket: Brian Lara and Steve Waugh. “Brian played shots we were told never to play. Un­ortho­dox, but one of the most ef­fec­tive and spec­tac­u­lar bats­men.”

And Waugh: “Quiet but de­ter­mined, who could dig deep in dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions.”

One of the few “high­lights” of the re­cent se­ries against Eng­land was the Bat­tle of the Beards – the pav­il­ion jokes be­tween “[Moeen] Ali’s army” and “Amla’s army”.

“Yes, we joke about this a lot; at least it pro­vides a lit­tle hu­mour.”

He started grow­ing his beard at 20, and has never shaved, be­cause it’s wad­jib (com­pul­sory) for a Mus­lim. He wears it as long as a hand’s breadth, which is also wad­jib.

In 2008, af­ter South Africa’s first se­ries win in Eng­land in 40 years, the story goes that the team went par­ty­ing in Birm­ing­ham that night. Hash also cel­e­brated – with a flavoured milk.

Ra­madan is the best month of the year for him.

“Ab­sti­nence teaches you to ap­pre­ci­ate your priv­i­leges. You be­come very thirsty on the field. You’re ex­hausted, men­tally and phys­i­cally, but you will be amazed how much you can ac­com­plish.”

He prays five times a day – Amla is com­mit­ment with­out fan­fare. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Like not wear­ing the logo of the Protea team’s spon­sor, Cas­tle Lager, on his clothes. It was a “kind re­quest”; it was granted, and there’s no more to be said about it.

At 32, crick­eters start plan­ning their postcricket years. But if you ask Amla, he be­comes vague. He en­joys what he does, is about all he says. Fo­cus just on this ball, on this day. Ev­ery mo­ment on its own merit.

That’s wad­jib, the Amla way.




Star Proteas cricket player Hashim Amla, who re­cently re­signed his test cap­taincy to fo­cus on his bat­ting


FO­CUSED Hashim Amla dur­ing a train­ing ses­sion this week ahead of the first one-day in­ter­na­tional against

Eng­land in Bloem­fontein

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