Hashim Amla: The most under-rated Test batsman of our times
“I wasn't sure about him when I first saw him bat,” Herschelle Gibbs recently told ESPNCricinfo when asked about his tryst with Hashim Amla. The statement was all the more ironic considering the fact that Amla had been the one who replaced him during a mentally tiring phase. However, Gibbs’ doubts carried plenty of weight as the then 23-year-old Amla did not have a promising start to his Test career.
From his first three matches, Amla could manage a meagre 62 runs at an average of 10.33. More importantly, he looked completely out of sorts against seam and swing.
However, in the 2006 Cape Town match, the right-hander ensured that Gibbs would not be missed when he scored his maiden Test ton in response to New Zealand’s first-innings total of 593. The same tenacity and sangfroid demeanour would stick with him during the subsequent days of his career.
Cut to January, 2017. Amla is on the verge of becoming only the 8th South African cricketer to complete 100 Tests. Apart from accumulating more than 7,600 runs at an average just a shade below 50, he has earned a reputation as the one who can be relied on even in the most desperate of situations.
Only three of Amla's centuries (two of them in the same match) have come in a losing cause. When Amla scores runs, South Africa are bloody hard to defeat – it is that simple.
|AB de Villiers||106||8074||50.46||278*||21||39|
Standing tall under difficult terrain
A Test batsman is almost always judged by how he performs away from home, on pitches beyond his comfort zone. Amla fares particularly well in this area, with most of his famous knocks coming against the best of teams in their own den.
Having been born in a South African family with roots in the Indian state of Gujarat, Amla was bound to possess the highly coveted sinewy subcontinent-style wrists. That is reflected in his record on Asian soil, where tackling the turning ball requires finesse rather than intrepidness. Only four visiting batsmen in the game’s history have scored more runs in the region than the stylish Durban-bred cricketer.
A seamless ability to switch gears
While he scored 490 runs from 2 Tests at an average of 490 (yup, you read that right) in the 2010 series on Indian soil, Amla proved his versatility by delivering on bouncier Australian pitches as well. The finest example of that was the counter-attacking 221-ball 196 at Perth against a bowling line-up comprising of Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc, which set up a famous series victory.
All this was accomplished even as he continued to devour visiting bowlers in South Africa. Such has been his consistency since the start of 2010 that no batsman averages more than his 56.42 (although Steven Smith is catching up quickly) when a minimum cut-off of 5,000 runs is applied.
The cherry on top
Before the Perth master-class came a very special knock which found its way into the record books. On a typical Oval surface, Amla used his bat like a shovel and buried England deep into the ground.
In a series mounted as the challenge for the number one ranking, the hosts compiled 385 in the first innings. But that amounted to little as the ‘Mighty Hash’ amassed a 529-ball 311 and laid the foundation for an innings victory as well as the Test mace.
A recent slump in form has meant that Amla is not seen as the first and only South African batsman to score a triple century, but as a rapidly ageing veteran whose career is supposedly heading towards a decline. But taking into account the 33-year-old’s resoluteness and exploits against the odds, the picture does not appear to be over just yet.
In the meantime, the 100th Test should give him a moment to look back and shift his gaze forward. It's been a breathtaking career, and Amla deserves every bit of adulation for it.
(**Note: All Statistics are accurate as of 11th January, 2017)