The bearded monk who aced the 50-over format

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28 Jun 2020 | 01:48 AM
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Hardik Worah

The bearded monk who aced the 50-over format

On this day, Hashim Amla played his last international match for South Africa and we look back at his astonishing ODI career

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You watch any period dramas or fantasy-driven TV shows, there will always be that one 'wise' character with a long beard who will be soft-spoken, not fierce, and yet be the one running the show. These personalities might not have the 'in-your-face' attitude like most of the main characters but if needed, they don't shy away from passing snarky remarks for the betterment of their own people. They don't always hog the limelight, or are the 'face' of their respective houses, but their contributions are second to none. They always maintain a certain sense of calmness, and these are the characters you simply can't hate.

South Africa had such one 'character' who was loved and respected by all. Yes, we are talking about the bearded wonder, Hashim Amla!  

With his zen-like presence at the crease, Amla broke several records and wrote his own legacy. An elegant top-order batsman, Amla overcame a shaky start in international cricket and after playing 15 years for South Africa, he retired as one of their best batsmen of all-time. With those aggressive shots off the back foot, his exquisite wristwork, serene cover drives and solid footwork, Amla certainly left his mark on international cricket. The right-handed batsman was an all-format player and performed well for the Proteas in all three facets of the game.

Amla’s grandparents migrated from Gujarat to South Africa but he retained the elegance of a subcontinental batsman and injected it into South African cricket. It was under his leadership South Africa reached the final of the 2002 Under-19 World Cup where they lost to Australia. Amla made his Test debut in 2004 and was initially regarded as a red-ball specialist. He had to wait till 2008 to play his first ODI but it didn't take him long to prove that his classic strokeplay, mainly as an opening batsman, was as effective as power hitting in the limited-overs game.

Amla made his ODI debut against Bangladesh at Chattogram in 2008. He batted at No. 3 in his first two ODIs before he was asked to open the innings alongside Herschelle Gibbs in England. Gibbs, a belligerent hitter of the white-ball had a strike-rate of 83.26 while Amla, labelled as a Test specialist, batted at a strike-rate of 88.39 in his ODI career. Gibbs soon retired from the game but Amla took over the responsibility of becoming the pillar of the South African batting line-up.

The year 2010 was outstanding for Amla as the right-hander scored over 1000 runs in both ODIs and Tests. In 15 innings, Amla scored 1058 runs at an average of 75.57 and crafted four fifties and five centuries. Impressively, he scored these runs at a strike rate of 104.2. 2015 was another year where he once again crossed the 1000-run mark.

Apart from AB de Villiers to an extent, no other South African batsman was as consistent as Amla in the last decade. The right-hander dominated both ODIs and Tests and is the only South African player to have scored 25 centuries in both formats. It cannot be forgotten that he was a mighty fine T20 player as well. Such was his brilliance that the cricket fraternity was comparing him with Virat Kohli, an ODI batting giant of 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 runs.

Amla finished his ODI career with 8113 runs at an average of 49.46. Jacques Kallis and de Villiers are the only other two South African batsmen with more runs than Amla in the 50-over format. However, Amla slammed 27 centuries in ODIs, the most by any South African batsman. The way he scored runs with an extravagant consistency without compromising on the scoring rate was astonishing. He did well against almost every single opponent and had an average of over 40 against every team except for New Zealand, India and Australia.

Amla scored 55 centuries across formats and only the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Kohli, Kumar Sangakkara and Kallis have more hundreds than him. In terms of scoring hundreds, he is second only to Kohli amongst the 14 batsmen who have scored 20 ODI hundreds or more. Kohli scores an ODI century every 5.6 innings, while Amla did it every 6.6 innings. Amla, who had monk-like patience and a tremendous ability to soak pressure, hit all of his 27 centuries in ODIs as an opener. Only two other batsmen - Tendulkar (45) and Sanath Jayasuriya (28) - have more centuries than him as an opener.

When in full flow, Amla was invincible with the bat in his hand. Calm, diligent and classy, he always expressed himself with his sheer willpower and sublime strokeplay. Amongst openers who have scored over 2500 runs in ODIs, Amla has the second-best average after India's current opener Rohit Sharma. Overall in ODIs, only five other batsmen (Min 5000 runs) have a better average than Amla.

Amla could have easily ended up with a batting average of over 50 but his form started to dip since the start of 2018. In 2018, he only scored 345 runs in 11 encounters at a mediocre average of 28.64. This was the first and only time Amla had an average of less than 30 in a calendar year. He did average over 46 in 2019 but that was only because of his four-50 plus scores. He operated at a strike rate of 74.5 and it was clearly evident that his best years were behind him. He featured in the 2019 World Cup but didn't really make an impact. He did score at an average of 40.6, but did it with a strike rate of just 64.9.

Amla looked far from his best in last year's World Cup and was even struggling with his hand-eye coordination. The South African opening batsman was forced to retire hurt in the very first game of the tournament after being on the receiving end of a vicious Jofra Archer bouncer. He reacted late and was undone by sheer pace. Amla played his final international match (Proteas' last 2019 World Cup game) on this day against Sri Lanka and even managed to score an unbeaten 105-ball 80, but the mighty Hash knew his time was up and a few months later, announced his retirement from international cricket, leaving a gaping hole in the South African batting line-up.

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