Hash set for land­mark Test

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - STU­ART HESS

GRAEME Smith wants noth­ing more than for Hashim Amla to score a lot of runs in his 100th Test. He sounds al­most des­per­ate when he says, to­wards the end of our in­ter­view: “There’s just one other thing I want to say.

“Mile­stone games like th­ese can be dif­fi­cult. There’s a lot that goes on around th­ese type of games, ex­tra in­ter­views, spon­sors want­ing to show their ap­pre­ci­a­tion, (CSA) want­ing to recog­nise the achieve­ment… I re­mem­ber back to my 100th Test, and all I wanted to do was per­form, to con­trib­ute. Hope­fully Hash can take that fo­cus and calm­ness that comes nat­u­rally to him and do what he does best, and that is score lots of runs,” Smith,

said. It was a heart­felt state­ment from a man who’s walked into bat­tle with Amla on many oc­ca­sions across all three for­mats, in all sorts of con­di­tions and was his cap­tain in 73 Tests. They shared 65 part­ner­ships to­gether, av­er­aged 57.15 in those stands and, on 10 oc­ca­sions, passed 100 runs. Smith loves re­call­ing those times, the jokes, the look of the op­po­si­tion as they were grad­u­ally worn down, and the fact he and Amla couldn’t con­verse in Afrikaans – to keep tac­tics

se­cret from op­po­nents – be­cause they both spoke it so aw­fully.

In the early days it could be dif­fi­cult to keep Amla’s at­ten­tion on any­thing else be­sides bat­ting.

“I guess now that he’s in the slips he has to be more en­gaged with his field­ing. When he started out we had him at short leg, so that helped keep his con­cen­tra­tion up in the field, but when he moved to mid-off or mid-on you’d some­times have to shout at him to keep his at­ten­tion on the game.”

On a prac­ti­cal, cricket level, there is ap­pre­ci­a­tion and re­spect from Smith for what Amla is achiev­ing in play­ing 100 Tests, purely be­cause of where he bats in the or­der.

“In those early days, as a top or­der player in South African con­di­tions, which are al­ways dif­fi­cult and of­fer unique chal­lenges – the ball used to do a lot – and you re­ally had to know your game…It’s a mea­sure of his will to suc­ceed and im­prove his game that he’s reached 100 Tests.”

Amla’s start in Test cricket wasn’t easy. There were ques­tions about his tech­nique and men­tal strength. “He had a rough pe­riod when he first got picked, and then he was dropped, and even when he came back he was un­der pres­sure,” said Smith.

The first Test against New Zealand at the Wan­der­ers in 2007 was a turn­ing point in Amla’s ca­reer.

“I re­mem­ber that Test. It was a tough sit­u­a­tion and he hadn’t scored a lot of runs in the first in­nings, and Scott Styris was giv­ing him beans from slip say­ing that it was his last chance. “Shortly af­ter that he slashed at a wide ball which he edged be­hind, but he was dropped (by Bren­don McCul­lum), and from there his ca­reer just took off and he never looked back.”

“There was a calm­ness and con­sis­tency about him, and his per­son­al­ity was al­ways pretty sta­ble. What I en­joyed when I bat­ted with him was that he had a re­ally good sense of hu­mour, very dry, and in those most in­tense mo­ments, he’d have just the right thing to say to lighten the mood and make the pres­sure feel man­age­able.

“He was very good at trans­fer­ring pres­sure. Our strengths and weak­nesses sort of matched each other and one of things was he’d put bad balls away, run hard and we could go from 5/1 to 40/1 fairly quickly. He al­ways had a pos­i­tive mind­set when bat­ting.”

The most mem­o­rable of Smith and Amla’s part­ner­ships were those when the loss of an early wicket gave the op­po­si­tion a sniff, but it was then quickly snuffed out. Think back to the Oval in 2012, when Smith made a 100 in his 100th Test and Amla made 311 not out. Or Perth, also in 2012, when the pair rat­tled along at five runs an over in a sec­ond-wicket stand of 178 against an at­tack that in­cluded Mitchell Starc and Mitchell John­son.

It was supreme bat­ting, at­tack­ing but not reck­less, and in the case of the 259run stand at the Oval, a part­ner­ship of mag­nif­i­cent skill and con­cen­tra­tion.

For all his great­ness as a bats­man, it’s as a per­son that Smith’s re­spect and even af­fec­tion for Amla runs deep­est. “Hash is not a ‘rah rah’ type at all; he’d al­ways be will­ing to have a quiet word, but you knew he was al­ways very fo­cused and very com­mit­ted.

“As a player he was very easy to cap­tain. He al­ways had good body lan­guage and he was never shy to share an idea. He wasn’t con­sis­tently in your ear. I guess as cap­tain when qui­eter guys had some­thing to say, you lis­tened a bit more. He al­ways had some­thing to good to of­fer.”

Though Amla still has much to of­fer the game, af­ter a ca­reer that’s spanned 12½ years he’s al­ready left a rich legacy. “I sup­pose Hash is an iconic player, not just in South Africa, but world­wide.

“He’s eas­ily recog­nis­able with the beard, but it’s much more than that; it’s been the way he’s car­ried him­self.

“He’s cre­ated a sta­tus for him­self, but he’s al­ways han­dled the recog­ni­tion in the right way. Through his re­li­gion he found strength and he’s al­ways made it about per­for­mance on the field.

He’s al­ways been very nat­u­ral, com­fort­able in his own skin. He’s never tried to be any­one else.”

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