Mighty Hash - The Silent Assassin

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12 Aug 2019 | 11:39 AM
authorShubh Aggarwal

Mighty Hash - The Silent Assassin

A man of few words, Hashim Amla, expressed himself with his sublime strokeplay

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Knees too bent for a batsman with an upright stance, a peculiar back and across trigger movement of the feet, an unusual movement of the front elbow to go with a twirling backlift.

The first sight of Hashim Amla leaves an impression as if his body will give away before the ball reaches him. For a batsman who is perceived as a Test specialist, he would be rejected by most of the cricket pundits at first glance. That, indeed, is what happened. Rewind back to his debut in November 2004, Amla managed only 62 runs in his first six innings in Test cricket. Consequently, he was dropped for a year before a career-saving hundred in his comeback innings - 149 vs New Zealand in Cape Town in 2007 which was a match-saving effort.

For the 15 months he was out of the side, Amla worked tirelessly on his batting technique, making special efforts to improve his backlift. In the subsequent domestic season when he realized that the twirling backlift was an inevitable part of his game, he made peace with it. The 149 against New Zealand gave a fresh start to his career and Amla showed that judging his batting technique by his stance was like judging a book by its cover.

South Africa enjoyed a golden run in Test cricket from 2006 to 2015, a span of nine years during which they did not lose a single series overseas. The bearded batsman played a pivotal role in that.

Despite not being prolific till 2009, Amla scored Test hundreds in the demanding conditions of Chennai and engraved his name on the Lord’s Honours Board with a match-saving second-innings ton, both in 2008. And then, the Hashim Amla era began with South Africa’s tour of India in 2010.

The right-hander was invincible with the bat in his hand. In three innings of the two-match Test series, the Durban-born master slammed 490 runs with three hundreds, getting dismissed only once. His scores read 253*, 114 and 123*. An Indian attack comprising of Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh literally gave up in their attempt to get him out. 

Till 2009, Amla had scored six hundreds in his five-year-old Test career. In 2010 alone, he hammered five tons. In the next four years, he amassed 11 more hundreds. His humongous batting efforts included a resilient 311* against England at The Oval in 2012 - the first triple hundred by a South African and the second longest innings from his country - 790 minutes (more than 13 hours) and a series sealing 196 at the WACA against Australia later that year. From Hashim Amla, he had now been christened ‘The Mighty Hash.’

By the end of 2012, South Africa had drawn a Test series in India twice, won against Pakistan in their adopted home, UAE, defeated both England and Australia overseas twice and had reached the pinnacle of Test rankings. Two months later in 2013, Amla became the no. 1 Test batsman reflecting his impact on the side. In 2014, the Proteas went on to win their first Test series in Sri Lanka. That was Hashim Amla’s first series as the skipper of the side. From 2010 to 2014, Amla was one of the most prolific run-scorers in the longest form of the game.

Captaincy, though, seemed to have adverse effects on his game. He had an unfruitful 2015 with a batting average of only 22.8, his lowest since 2005. It was also the first time since 2005 that he failed to score a Test hundred in a calendar year. He quit captaincy soon after the New Year’s Test against England in Cape Town in 2016, in which he scored a match-saving 201.

Amla came back to scoring runs, albeit, without the peerless consistency he had displayed in preceding years. It has been seen before with the greatest exponents of hand-eye coordination -  which Amla showed in abundance in his game - that their reflexes slow down leading to a sudden dip in form. The Protean great went through a similar crisis. The downfall saw his Test average drop to 46.6 from 52.4, the latter figure his average at the beginning of 2015. 

Despite the unforeseen dip in his numbers at the halfway stage into the decade, the veteran remains the highest run-scorer for a number three batsman since 2010. The 2000s had Rahul Dravid, Ricky Ponting and Kumar Sangakkara. This decade has had Hashim Amla, followed by Kane Williamson and Cheteshwar Pujara. 

Very few batsmen have milked their purple patch as well as Amla did. And he translated that into his ODI game as well. Amla replaced Herschelle Gibbs at the opening slot in South Africa’s ODI setup. Gibbs, a belligerent hitter of the white-ball had a strike-rate of 83 while Amla, labelled as a Test batsman batted at a strike-rate of 88 in his ODI career. A higher strike-rate for Amla can be attributed to better batting conditions in ODIs post the 2011 World Cup but the way he scored runs with extravagant consistency without compromising the scoring rate was astonishing.

Such was his brilliance that fans and experts were comparing him with Virat Kohli, an ODI batting giant in modern-day cricket. Amla, in fact, broke Kohli’s record for being the fastest to score 6,000 and 7,000 ODI runs. Before that, he already was the fastest to 2,000, 3,000, 4,000 and 5,000 ODI runs. In terms of scoring hundreds, he is second only to Kohli amongst the 13 batsmen who have scored 20 ODI hundreds or more. 

Along with his enormous appetite for runs, it was also Amla’s simplicity that made him a beloved cricketer. In the modern-era, when players carry a heavily loaded kit with a large number of bats, gloves and shoes, he batted with only one pair of gloves during his knock of 311* which went on for 13 hours. He did the same, through the 2015 World Cup. He never wore the Castle Lager logo on his jersey to stay true to his beliefs as a Muslim and was happy to pay a fine to Cricket South Africa instead.

These gestures can rub off on his teammates. “If I ever need inspiration, I just turn to my left and see Hashim reading the Quran”, tweeted Dale Steyn back in 2011.

Calm, diligent and classy, Hashim Amla, a man of few words expressed himself with his sublime strokeplay. It cannot be forgotten that he was a mighty fine T20 player as well, who scored 1,277 at an average of 33.6 for Proteas and hammered two IPL hundreds for Kings XI Punjab in the 2017 IPL season.

Hashim Amla’s grandparents migrated from Gujarat to South Africa but he retained the elegance of a sub-continental batsman which he injected it into South African cricket. He ended up with 18,672 international runs in 349 games which included 55 hundreds. And after realizing that his time was up, Amla quietly announced his international retirement, instead of clinging on to one format which is the norm these days.

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