Getting up close and personal with the Mighty#
“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.
FRANK TALK: Hashim Amla, left, and our cricket writer Zaahier Adams.