Hash set for landmark Test
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.”