Get­ting up close and per­sonal with the Mighty#

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - ZAAHIER ADAMS Cape Town

“WHY does the un­cle not have a beard, Daddy?” the lit­tle boy asked his fa­ther.

The boy was ut­terly per­plexed at my (the the “un­cle’s”) lack of fa­cial hair.

Con­sid­er­ing I was very proud of my tiny goa­tee which I had cul­ti­vated for the bet­ter part of the last decade, I would have taken of­fence if the question wasn’t be­ing posed in the most ador­ing, hon­est man­ner.

The lit­tle boy was Ab­dul­lah Amla. The fa­ther, of course, is Hashim Ma­homed Amla.

And dis­play­ing the same com­fort and ease with which the lead­ing Proteas bats­man flicks a 150km/h de­liv­ery off his pads to the bound­ary, he sim­ply smiled and said: “The un­cle is try­ing, my boy,” be­fore wink­ing in my direc­tion.

This oc­curred at din­ner the night af­ter South Africa had de­feated Sri Lanka at the SCG to win their first World Cup knock­out match, at the 2015 ver­sion of the tour­na­ment.

Un­like many of his team­mates, Amla chose to cel­e­brate the oc­ca­sion with a group of close friends and fam­ily at the home of an ac­quain­tance in the plush sub­urbs of Syd­ney.

I feel priv­i­leged that Amla af­forded me the op­por­tu­nity to get be­hind that de­fence he dis­plays so solidly on the field and in me­dia con­fer­ences, over meals that are of­ten brought about through the won­der­ful hospi­tal­ity of his many “ac­quain­tances” around the world.

Jour­nal­ism teaches us to re­port ob­jec­tively on sub­jects we cover, and I have crit­i­cised him when nec­es­sary. But hav­ing a close-up ex­pe­ri­ence of Amla in these can­did mo­ments has only given me a greater ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the player out in the mid­dle.

Amla’s Proteas’ team­mates of­ten speak about his wicked sense of hu­mour. From the out­side it’s hard to imag­ine. On the in­side I can at­test to that. At ev­ery din­ner I am in­tro­duced to the ta­ble thus: “This is Zaahier Adams, be care­ful what you say, he’s a re­porter.”

This of­ten loosens ev­ery­one up for the evening, al­though a cer­tain Us­man Khawaja was rather cau­tious un­til Amla told the Aus­tralian left-han­der, “Don’t worry, he’s not like your lot”, which again had the ta­ble in stitches and left “Uzzie” feel­ing a lot more re­laxed.

Some­times, though, it’s not all laughs and gig­gles. There are se­ri­ous dis­cus­sions, too – none more so than dur­ing the Eng­land tour to South Africa in 2015/16.

Amla was still cap­tain of the Proteas Test side, his team had just re­turned from sur­ren­der­ing their proud away Test record in In­dia, and Eng­land were now ex­ert­ing pres­sure on the hosts.

Amla was des­per­ate for the Proteas to turn their for­tunes around. He be­lieved the only way it could be achieved was for him to step down as cap­tain and fo­cus solely on try­ing to score runs to help the team achieve its ob­jec­tive.

I was fully against it but we de­bated for many hours what the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of his de­ci­sion would be.

His­tory tells us I lost the battle to con­vince him to stay on. His­tory also tells us that his was the right de­ci­sion.

The burn­ing question I had al­ways wanted to ask him, but never dared, even in our pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions, re­lated to whether he was per­suaded to take on the lead­er­ship reins. Or had it been his own de­ci­sion?

Fresh from scor­ing a dou­ble-cen­tury, Amla an­swered that em­phat­i­cally dur­ing that fate­ful New­lands Test last year. As he said at the time: “You don’t look like me in this world with­out be­ing firm on what you want to do.”

Amla has been firm from the mo­ment he chose not to wear the al­co­holic bev­er­age spon­sor’s logo on his right breast all those years ago. It was al­ways go­ing to be up­stream from there on.

The fact that he’s still go­ing strong and on the verge of 100 Test caps speaks vol­umes not only about the crick­eter, but the man more im­por­tantly.

And for that alone, South Africa should stand up and salute the Mighty# to­day.

PIC­TURE: SUP­PLIED

FRANK TALK: Hashim Amla, left, and our cricket writer Zaahier Adams.

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