If cricket is a gentleman’s game, Hashim Amla will always be the living, breathing example of what that stands for, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
It’s been some week in South African cricket.
On Sunday, Cricket South Africa announced a complete structural overhaul with the appointment of a team manager, who will report to a new director of cricket. Coach Ottis Gibson and his support staff were bid farewell.
Faf du Plessis will remain Test skipper, but his future as ODI and T20I skipper hangs in the balance.
Then, earlier this week, legendary fast bowler Dale Steyn called time on his Test career in an attempt to prolong his involvement in the shorter format of the game.
As Bob Dylan mused, ‘The Times They Are a-Changin‘.
Finally, on Friday, another bombshell landed when Amla announced his retirement from all international cricket with immediate effect.
First, let’s pause to reflect; to remember and to celebrate a storied career. Amla played 124 Tests, 181 ODIs and 44 T20Is between 2004 and 2019. His 9,282 runs in Test cricket are the second most by a Proteas cricketer, after the veteran Jacques Kallis’ 13,206.
He collected the country’s third-most runs in ODI cricket – 8,113 after former skipper AB de Villiers’ 9,427 and Kallis’ 11,550.
By any definition, he is a legend of the game. An icon. A game changer.
When the humble, quietly-spoken batsman first began to wield his way into the public spotlight, no one quite knew what to expect.
There were those who questioned his technique, with his unorthodox trigger movements and somewhat ungainly backlift leading many to suggest that he would be found wanting on the international stage.
At the beginning, it certainly wasn’t all about runs for fun. Amla had to grind, graft and redefine his game.
He refused to just quietly fall by the wayside.
Slowly but surely, though, he began to stamp his authority on the Test game. Way back in 2004, he made his debut in the longer format of the game.
By 2012 he was well established in the traditional whites, and then came his historic knock of 311 not out against England at the Oval – the first South African to reach that milestone in Test cricket.
That moment stands out for me, and I’m sure many others. When Amla reached this incredible figure, there was no over-the-top celebration. No flashy show of emotion. No big fist pump.
No. Instead, he just calmly, casually removed his helmet, raised his bat, and carried on as if it was just another day in the job.
Amla, after all, has never been a man for the spotlight. He is the epitome of a cricketing gentleman, who just happened to be a cricketing genius to boot.
Despite the fact there were many who believed his style of play would never suit the limited-overs arena, he duly defied those doubters through the sheer weight of runs.
For Amla, captaincy never seemed a natural fit, but when his country needed him, he was willing to shoulder the responsibility and challenge himself in a widely unexpected leadership role.
All the while, Amla never lost sight of who he is.
When there were contentious catches, there were countless occasions he was willing to take the word of the fielder and was happy to head back to the hut. Similarly, there were numerous times he took the decision to walk when he knew he was out – something that is virtually never seen in this ever-competitive modern game.
After all, Amla was a man who held the game in the highest regard. For him, respect was earned through actions rather than words.
Now, he hangs up his bat. We all knew this moment was coming, but it stings.
There was just something about Amla calmly walking to the crease that settled the nerves when the Proteas found themselves in a spot of bother.
Over time he understandably – albeit somewhat unwittingly – developed a cult following, with the spectator group known as ‘Amla’s Army’ often finding full voice in Test matches at Newlands, while donning the prerequisite beards.
This is the story of Amla. A batsman who defied the odds, redefined what was seen as normal, and who united the nation in the most memorable fashion.
If there is someone who has a bad word to say about Amla, I’m yet to hear it.
He is, and always will be the ultimate cricketing gentleman. To think we’ve seen the last of that quiet swagger and burgeoning beard under his helmet grill is a sad thought indeed.
Amla was, quite simply, one of a kind. A player and person of his ilk will be sorely missed, but there will be no shortage of fond memories to reflect on.
Here’s to that. Here’s to a Proteas icon!
Photo: Muzi Ntombela/Backpagepix