Amla’s bat­tle to si­lence crit­ics

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - STU­ART HESS

RE­MEM­BER when Hashim Amla was not good enough for in­ter­na­tional cricket? That was a long time ago. Crit­ics in­cluded the uber bat­ting tech­ni­cians for whom that twirl of the bat be­fore he made con­tact with the ball was just too quirky; the pseudo psy­cho­an­a­lysts reck­oned he was too pas­sive and then there were the types still not com­fort­able with Amla’s race and even his re­li­gion.

To all of them, Amla was not a Test player. That was back in the sum­mer of 2004/05 when a South African team in the midst of tran­si­tion lost in In­dia – where Amla made his de­but – and then to Michael Vaughan’s English team. That was a sum­mer that saw AB de Vil­liers make his de­but, Dale Steyn too, while Mark Boucher was dropped. Look­ing back it all seems chaotic.

That Amla didn’t suc­ceed ini­tially in that kind of en­vi­ron­ment, seems per­fectly un­der­stand­able. He scored 62 runs across his first six Test in­nings, was dropped af­ter the New Year’s Test which South Africa won against Eng­land and was later re­called for a late sea­son se­ries against New Zealand in which he made his maiden Test cen­tury at New­lands.

How­ever, even that achieve­ment was greeted with a kind of cyn­i­cal ap­pre­ci­a­tion – the pitch at New­lands was flat, three other guys scored hun­dreds in­clud­ing James Franklin.

It was only about 18 months later that Amla could be said to have nailed down a place in the Proteas Test team when he made his sec­ond cen­tury, also against New Zealand, with his side un­der pres­sure and ques­tions marks still swirling around about his wor­thi­ness as a Test player.

That un­beaten 176 af­ter he’d been dropped by Bren­don McCul­lum on two – a very sim­ple chance it was too – proved to be the turn­ing point for Amla.

He backed up that hun­dred with an­other in the fol­low­ing Test, again shar­ing a vi­tal part­ner­ship with Jac­ques Kal­lis af­ter the early dis­missal of the open­ers and his ca­reer has not looked back since. There have been a fur­ther 22 Test cen­turies, in­clud­ing three dou­ble hun­dreds and of course the his­toric 311 not out at The Oval in 2012, which have marked him as one of the preem­i­nent play­ers of the mod­ern era and ar­guably one of the great­est bats­men this coun­try has pro­duced.

Along with Jac­ques Kal­lis and AB de Vil­liers, Amla forged a for­mi­da­ble tri­umvi­rate whose run out­put was one of the cor­ner­stones of South Africa’s suc­cesses from 2007 to 2012, when the Proteas were the best Test side in the world.

Graeme Smith was an­other with whom Amla forged many vi­tal and big part­ner­ships and the former South African cap­tain al­ways be­lieved it was one of Amla’s strong points. In part­ner­ship with Kal­lis, the pair av­er­aged 61.29 to­gether, shared 11 cen­tury stands, three of which were over 300 runs and an­other three over 200.

In seek­ing to de­flect at­ten­tion off his own achieve­ments, Amla of­ten pointed out how en­joy­able it was at the other end watch­ing Kal­lis bat as if his own ef­forts were some­how a stain on the scene. They were not.

As a per­son, Amla is ge­nial, clever and has a charm­ingly dry wit, and as a se­nior player in the team has lat­terly – es­pe­cially in his short pe­riod as cap­tain – be­come even more aware of the need to speak up for the chal­lenges black play­ers face in South Africa.

“The first time you play Test cricket ev­ery­body doubts you be­cause of the colour of your skin,” Amla re­marked a year ago as he re­flected on Temba Bavuma’s his­toric cen­tury.

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