Amla’s battle to silence critics
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.