Cape Town – So
who is left to produce those really big ‘uns?
That is the
scary issue for South Africans to contemplate, particularly but not exclusively
from a Test point of view, in the wake of Hashim Amla’s decision on Thursday to
step down from all international cricket.
seemed typical -- even deliberate, maybe? -- that the unassuming 36-year-old
from Durban should make his revelation on the eve of a long weekend, when eyes
tend to be less vividly trained on the news than would ordinarily be the case.
took a bit of a leaf from a similarly run-plundering Proteas predecessor he
shared a rich mutual respect and plentiful swollen partnerships with: Jacques
Kallis, who quit Tests at Christmas, when the proverbial printing presses are idle,
noticeably sought the spotlight, or cherished the superstardom he undeniably
at the crease was serene, unfussed and famously, somehow, virtually sans sweat
– even when he had been there for sessions on end and sometimes during the
special demands of the religious fasting period he so dutifully adhered to.
never as conspicuously cavalier as others in the game (there were long periods
of his earlier career where he seldom opted for the pull or hook), but beauty
still so wonderfully eclipsed butchery in much of his stroke-play.
penchant was to glide, steer and caress the ball, though his trademark thriller
for the purist was the incomparable way he whipped it square or behind square with
searing velocity on the off-side with that billion-dollar wristiness, or
flicked it majestically off his legs.
Boy, that came in bucket-loads at his generous-spanned peak.
Much of his
career heyday was at the fulcrum of a (now well less stocked, worryingly)
period of genuine South African dominators at the crease; players capable of
batting for the best part of two days in Test matches for gigantic individual
scores or with the determination and stamina to sometimes turn centuries in the
ODI fold into innings of 150 or more.
Graeme Smith, most certainly Amla … they were very much part of that club, and
joined occasionally by the naturally more buccaneering likes of Hershelle Gibbs
and AB de Villiers, which meant those two were capable of posting truly weighty
innings across the formats as well.
Backed up by
a normally penetrative pace arsenal, it explained why the Proteas got to the
top of the ICC Test rankings more than once during Amla’s prime and were seldom
far off the top of the pile in white-ball terms as well.
owes him a debt of gratitude, in addition, for being -- just a little
surprisingly -- our only representative of the “300 elite” in the extended
format: players to have registered triple centuries.
There are 30
instances of treble-tons in Tests (including Brian Lara’s freak 400), with Amla’s
790-minute vigil for 311 not out against England at The Oval in 2012 slotting
him at No 21 for bulkiest Test score ever.
He is second
only to Kallis (13,206) in history for most Test runs by a South African – it
will be a considerable time before Amla’s 9,282 are overhauled, as the next
nine players on the list are all no longer active and men like Faf du Plessis
(a distant 3,608) and Dean Elgar (3,412) are already at quite advanced stages
of their careers.
dedicated some 15 years to the national cause, including a stint as Test
captain that, I suspect, he may feel he was just a little too cajoled into,
against his so often sound own instincts and clearly-defined aspirations.
to the collective cause was almost certainly more his forte than leadership … there’s
absolutely nothing wrong with that, is there?
He isn’t the
first cricketer to have slipped statistically toward the end, perhaps never
quite willing or able to comprehend the mental and physical toll the globetrotting
treadmill can take on an individual, sometimes with unforgiving and
I prefer to
remember Amla’s very top-of-game years, where he was averaging around the
giddying mid-fifties in both Tests and one-day internationals.
that’s superlative stuff.
that it took SA brains trusts of the era more time than it should have to
recognise the limited-overs potential in a player who would later go on to
incredibly monopolise the “fastest to” landmarks for every thousand ODI runs
between 2,000 and 7,000.
It was only
some three and a half years after his late 2004 Test debut that he was first
capped in the 50-overs game, and I had the pleasure of being present -- even if
it was at a bleak Benoni -- to witness in November 2008 his maiden century
(140) in the format against Bangladesh: another 26 would follow, a South
African record that holds firm, just seeing off De Villiers’s 25.
Mahomed Amla has been a quiet, routinely gracious and light-on-ego ambassador
for South Africa, almost unanimously well liked and respected wherever he
ventured on the planet.
It may be
prudent in these times to say there aren’t enough people like him?
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