Hashim Amla: the birth of a genius in alien conditions
The stance like a hawk waiting to pounce on its prey, the shuffle like a pack of jacks, the slight bend showing respect to the ball and the level of concentration which could put a yoga master to shame – these are the lowest of superlatives one could use to describe Hashim Amla’s batting.
The rock solid batsman who has made a name for himself in cricket was the party spoiler for the in-form Indians way back in 2009. South Africa’s tour to India is still fondly remembered for the heroics of Hashim Amla. He demolished the Indian bowling attack single-handedly on that tour which saw him score three consecutive hundreds, one of which was a double.
South Africa’s tour to India that year was billed as the fight between the heavyweights, owing to the tremendous form that India were in. India had a well-set batting line-up consisting of the then world number one batsman Gautam Gambhir and an in-form Sachin Tendulkar. The bowling was pretty good too, with Harbhajan and Zaheer raring to go, and they were leading the youngsters to great effect.
The first Test between India and South Africa took place in Nagpur, where the pitch was deemed to be slow. South Africa won the toss and chose to bat on a tricky surface which was quite unpredictable. They got off to a bad start, losing both their openers with just six runs on the board.
Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis came in to bat next, with huge pressure on them to stop the Indians from getting away with the match. But Amla wasn’t the man to bow down to pressure. He was a man of technique, always looking to play the ball on the merit of which it was bowled. He has always played what one can call “orthodox and classical” cricket. His defence has always been rock-solid, as he puts his body behind the ball, towering over the red cherry and making it look like he has gotten the ball to groove to his wishes.
His trademark shuffle, which has been patented by the South Africans in general, was used to full effect to negate the spinners. Elegance was in full view when he batted, and the way he manipulated the bowling to his whims showed how much hard work he had put in before the series began. India was known as the unconquered land back then, with three of the ‘Fab Four’ still intact. He always looked like he had the situation under control, having had the measure of the Indian bowling in previous tours.
There aren’t many cricketers outside the subcontinent who have enjoyed playing in India. But Amla looked like he was having the time of his life in the middle, not wanting to depart any time soon. He batted for almost two days and no bowler looked like getting him out. The ball obeyed his bat, and was allowed have a glimpse at the stumps only when he chose to leave the ball. Such was his dominance that South Africa won the match even before their innings was declared. He could have gone on to make a triple if not for the sudden mini-collapse after India got the wicket of AB De Villiers.
Sure enough, South Africa went on to win the match comfortably, aided by a fierce and hostile spell from the effervescent Dale Steyn. But it wasn’t the end of the Amla-treatment for the hosts.
Amla continued to dominate in the second Test as well, continuing from he left off in the previous Test. He was excellent in his shot- making, playing with the débutante Alviro Peterson. He guided the youngster well, and was made mincemeat of the Indian bowling. He would have gone on to build another epic innings, but he was unlucky to edge one off Zaheer Khan to the wicket-keeper. India lapped up the only chance they’d gotten, and finally sniffed their chance to seize control of the series.
Indian went on to put a mammoth total (643), and the match was all but sealed in their favor.
But Amla was there once again, fighting it out tooth and nail, unwilling to surrender to the might of the Indians. He plodded on to make yet another century, when the batsmen around him were falling like nine pins. He took the match to the last hour of the day. He battled alone for almost eight and a half hours, almost snatching the match away from the jaws of defeat. But his efforts went in vain as South Africa lost the match with just under 10 overs left.
Though the series was drawn, Amla’s efforts were applauded by all the fans of cricket including the Indians. It was one of the best performances that Indian fans have seen from a batsman of a visiting team. His batting was filled with pure class, elegance and outright technical competence. It will go down as one of the best tours that Amla has ever had, and could rightfully be called the birth of a genius in alien conditions.