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Mighty Hash - The Bearded Willow-Wielding Genius

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Last updated on 31 Mar 2023 | 09:31 AM
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Mighty Hash - The Bearded Willow-Wielding Genius

Amla’s grandparents migrated from Gujarat years ago but he retained the elegance of a subcontinental batsman

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 coupled with a twirling backlift.

The first sight of Hashim Amla leaves an impression as if his body will dismantle into pieces before the ball reaches him. For a batsman who is perceived as a Test specialist, he would be rejected by most cricket pundits at first glance. That, indeed, is what happened. Making 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 turned out to be a match-saving effort as well. 

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 his peace with it. The 149 against New Zealand gave a fresh start to his career and Amla showed that judging his batting technique from his stance is a poor example akin to 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 the Proteas did not lose a single series overseas. The bearded batsman played a pivotal role in that.

Even though when he was not 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 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 maestro 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 gave up in their attempts 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 scored 11 more hundreds. His humongous batting efforts included a mammoth 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 in the same year. From Hashim Amla, he had now become 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. Next year, the Proteas went on to win their first Test series in Sri Lanka. That was 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. His average of 65.6 during this period was second only to Shivnarine Chanderpaul.

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 registered 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 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 Protea great went through a similar crisis. The downfall saw his Test average drop to 46.6 which was 52.4 at the beginning of 2015. 

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

Very few batsmen have used 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 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 runs. In terms of scoring hundreds, he is second only to Kohli amongst the 14 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 also played through the 2015 World Cup carrying just one pair of gloves. He never wore the Castle Lager Sponsor logo on his jersey to stay true to his ethics as a devout Muslim and was happy to pay a fine to Cricket South Africa instead. 

Such things can rub off on teammates and Dale Steyn's following tweet speaks for Amla's simplicity in the most beautiful way possible.  

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

Amla’s grandparents migrated from Gujarat to South Africa years ago, but he retained the elegance of a subcontinental batsman and injected it into South African cricket. He scored 18,672 international runs in 349 games which included 55 hundreds. Turning 40 today, Amla announced his retirement realizing that his time might be up post a dreadful World Cup campaign. Like his batting heroics throughout a celebrated career, he left silently, hanging up his boots from all forms of the game, instead of clinging on to one format which is the norm these days.

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