Johannesburg - After a start to a Test career most thought was stillborn, Hashim Amla is on the brink of his 100th Test match for South Africa in the dead rubber third Test against Sri Lanka starting at the Wanderers on Thursday.
In a career which has been as much about answering questions about his technique as it has been about displaying a rare artistry and fortitude with bat in hand, Amla joins Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher, Graeme Smith, Shaun Pollock, Makhaya Ntini, Gary Kirsten and AB de Villiers as the eighth player to be inducted into SA’s hundred club.
Below are some of their thoughts on what makes Amla the batsman tick:
Why he’s such a run machine
More appropriately, the question should be why Amla is so run-crazed.
Forget technique, forget style, the common thing that runs through all great batsmen is a particular greed for runs.
“I think all those top batsmen in the world have a determination to score runs; a hunger to take every innings seriously and none for granted,” says former Proteas batsman and coach Kirsten.
“Most successful batsmen work out a recipe for success and when you’re playing against them you have a small window you can try to exploit.
"The one thing that always stood out with Hashim for me is that when you had a chance with him and you missed it you ended up regretting it.”
“Obviously his technique is pretty sound, otherwise he wouldn’t be getting to a hundred Tests,” says former Proteas team-mate Kallis.
“But for me his mental strength has generally stood out.”
His best century
Given that Amla has scored 25 tons to date, there are quite a few to choose from.
But the interesting thing is how both Kirsten and Kallis chose exactly the same two, if only for slightly different reasons, given that the one was there as a coach and the other as a fellow batsman (Kallis) when they were scored.
“I haven’t seen all of them, but the triple hundred [311 not out] he got in England [in 2012] with the team under pressure was an amazing innings – to bat that amount of time...” says Kirsten, who was Amla’s coach at the time.
“Then there was the hundred he got in Perth [also in 2012], batting at an incredibly fast rate [196 off 221 balls]. I think we were batting at five an over.
"Again we were under pressure, but it put us in a match-winning position.
“There were so many good ones and he did so many of them under pressure,” seconded Kallis. “I think he got a hundred in Perth where he was really dominant. The 311 also sticks to mind.”
His signature shot
Because he is so wristy, most would say Amla’s signature shot lies somewhere in the on-side, but Kallis likes a different shot altogether.
“He’s a helluva wristy player, but he’s got a back-foot punch that he hits consistently. Not many players can do that consistently. Also he’s a very good player of spin.”
Come to think of it, the back-foot drive has come to be the dead giveaway of when Amla is on form.
Why is he difficult to bowl to?
What with this being his longest run without getting a 50 (11 innings), Australia’s Josh Hazlewood and Sri Lanka’s Suranga Lakmal may disagree Amla’s difficult to bowl at, having practically dismissed him at will in the Proteas’ last two series.
But former Proteas pace bowler Makhaya Ntini can understand why it’s been so tough to bowl to his former team-mate, even though he hardly ever did in anger during his career:
“It’s his batting stance and that walking across the crease. The moment you bowl straight he hits you leg-side for four ... he basically forces you to bowl to his strengths.”
Why the slump in form?
The irony about Amla’s poor run of form is that he was the Proteas’ leading run scorer in Tests (611 at 50.94) and T20 internationals (308 runs at a strike rate of 146.66) last year, which probably says more about the high expectations on him.
Kallis, who was batting consultant for the Proteas ahead of the recently concluded Test against Sri Lanka in Cape Town, agrees:
“People have gone on about it but he’s still scored a helluva lot of runs. He’s done so well in the past people expect more from him.
“Technically, not much has changed. He’s just got a lot of good balls he got out to and he’s also got in and got himself out.”
Kirsten suggested that, due to his constant search to improve his batting and to try different things as “a student of the game”, maybe Amla needs to go back to basics.
“Hash would have realised that he needs to go back to the basics that got him to where he is.”