Hashim’s nutcracker a sweet comeback
Ahmedabad isn’t really a destination your typical South African traveller will be too fond of. First of all, the sixth largest city in India is located in Gujarat, a dry state. As a foreigner you can apply for a liquor licence which allows you a certain quota during your stay, but the grant is nowhere near sufficient for the thirsty traveller. And you have to consume it behind closed doors.
Even worse, you can hardly find meat on any menu as the offerings are mostly vegetarian. Imagine a bunch of Saffers around a braai fire deprived of dop AND tjop.
But despite these challenges, South African cricket sides have a few fond memories of the city’s cricket headquarters, the Sardar Patel Gujarat Stadium. Shaun Pollock produced an uber miserly bowling display there to choke Sri Lanka in a must-win Champions Trophy match in 2006, two years later AB de Villiers launched the cocky Harbhajan Singh onto the roof of the grandstand on his way to a swashbuckling unbeaten 217 to set up an innings victory in the second Test and in 2010 continued his love-affair with the ground by pasting the Indian attack again during a 58-ball one-day ton.
But my favourite memory of the 54 000-seater venue didn’t happen on the actual playing surface. Hashim Amla had just completed a net session on the eve of a Test and was speaking to a couple of touring reporters, who opened their questioning with something along the lines of “so how was training today”?
“It went well,” he said, “besides from the fact that I got hit in the nuts”... and continued describing the net session on his merry way without flinching.
After finishing up the interview, veteran cricket scribe Neil Manthorp turned to me and asked in a red-faced giggle: “Was it just me, or did he drop a nut bomb on us?”
Still in disbelief, transcribing the interview from my dictaphone to my laptop confirmed our hearing was indeed in good health.
Forward almost a decade and Amla is set to become only the eighth South African to play a hundred Tests when the third match against Sri Lanka starts at the Wanderers tomorrow. Tributes are expected to pour in from all over the cricketing fraternity for one of Mzansi’s greatest batsman ever. SuperSport will no doubt show a special documentary during lunchtime with footage of his illustrious Test career, with the highlights undoubtedly his historic triple hundred against England at The Oval in 2012 and being appointed South Africa’s first permanent non-white Test captain two years later.
This may seem silly, but what will live on in my mind long after he has played his final innings will not be a wristy flick through the leg side for four or raising his bat for yet another century.
No, it will rather be his description of the ill-fated delivery that snuck through his defences in the Ahmedabad nets. Why? Because it personifies who he is: Unassuming, honest and direct.
With Hash, what you see is what you get and that happens to be one of the most decent human beings you will meet. One who lauds a team-mate’s talents after scoring a triple hundred himself and one who gracefully removes the captain’s armband when he feels it is in the best interest for his country.
I sincerely hope the matches column isn’t the only one displaying three figures behind his name on the Bullring’s scoreboard this week, because nobody deserves a special knock for a special occasion more than our beloved Hash.
But with the generous bounce on offer, just be mindful of another nutcracker, old chap.