It’s that time of year when we honour those athletes who have excelled in their selected professions – breaking records and yet remaining refreshingly “normal”. Daily Maverick’s Sportspeople of the Year are a breath of fresh air in an ever-growing culture of flash and cash. By ANT SIMS.
LOCAL SPORTSPERSON OF THE YEAR: HASHIM AMLA
Pages and pages of copy have been dedicated to Hashim Amla this year. Column inches, newspaper graphics. And yet beyond the often quirky headlines lies a very real struggle to find the right words to describe such a uniquely brilliant player; one who just makes everything look so easy.
Scoring 300 runs in your first Test in months without even breaking a sweat? Easy. Notching up 196 on a pitch everybody else seems to find a massive hurdle? Piece of cake.
What makes Amla so utterly fabulous isn’t just his ability to score runs at will and stay calm while doing it. It’s that through everything, he has remained so humble and down to earth. His behaviour is a constant reminder that he’s only human – even though his achievements on the field might make you think differently from time to time.
When Amla scored 300 against England at The Oval earlier this year – the first South African to manage 300 runs in a Test match – his sense of humour had not waned. Asked whether he ever thought that the 300 would be possible, he laughed and smiled that bright smile he is always so willing to share. He responded that with the way he bats, 300 always seems very far off, so he never even considered he might get there.
Funny that the player who can seem so focused, so untroubled when being peppered with short balls or having his ear yapped off by players in the slips, started off his career a bit shakily. Since he made a bit of a slow start against India back in 2004, Amla has become, as the cliché says, a complete player. From his peculiar back lift, which he has because he used to play cricket with his brother in the backyard and the space he had to move his bat was confined – lift too much and you hit your stumps – to his succulent flicks of the wrists which caress the ball with such finesse it seems like it’s gliding through the air and onto the outfield – Amla’s skills with the bat know no bounds.
Amla rarely hooks, but he leaves crowds completely and totally hooked. Hooked on his finesse, his tranquillity, his incredible ability to ride out the storm when bowlers launch an assault. On the surface, if you had ever met Amla or watched him in a press conference, you might call him meek; the toughness which he exudes on the field doesn’t show. But, as they say, it’s always the quiet ones.
Quiet Amla might be in person and nature, but he’s certainly not a quiet talent.
INTERNATIONAL SPORTS PERSON OF THE YEAR: LIONEL MESSI
It’s easy to wax lyrical about Lionel Messi – he can’t seem to stop scoring goals and nobody seems to know how to slow him down. Diminutive and magical, Messi has had a tremendous year where records have buckled under his feet. And while he might never get close to the glory of 18 Olympic Golds or defending a title, he is so tremendously talented that he rarely seems to have an off day.
Messi doesn’t look like an athlete – not in the traditional sense of the word, anyway. If you didn’t know what he looked like and you passed him on the street, you probably wouldn’t look twice. For a man of such exceptional talent, Messi just seems so incredibly ordinary, average, normal. But he’s not – words from the thesaurus could be racked, stacked and broken and you still wouldn’t be able to describe him adequately.
Having already netted 88 goals this year – surpassing Gerd Muller’s 1972 record of 85 goals – he still has a game to go to add to his tally. And it would be a surprise if he didn’t manage to net at least one more.
While players across all sports often go through bad patches, Messi seemingly doesn’t know when to stop. And while this writer would be foolish to try and wind up words about the little magician like Sid Lowe does, she does know that at the age of 25, Messi is already a legend – and we can expect records to fall at his all-conquering feet like empires fell at the feet of Napoleon.
And just like the little French general, the little Argentinian will likely rule the football field for a long time to come. DM
Photo: Hashim Amla & Lionel Messi.