Hashim Amla’s Zen is something South Africa will bank on as their journey through the World Cup continues. He’s the only man in the world that can make slogging look elegant and scoring a ton at a run-a-ball look slow. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
As South Africa continues its World Cup journey into crunch time, every player’s role will become more important. Form and execution will form an integral part in progressing through the knockouts. Through all of this, South Africa will also have to remain calm and collected and nobody does calm and collected better than Hashim Amla.
Amla’s significance at the top of the order needs little explaining. Taking the shine off the new ball and being an anchor to steady the ship is what he is best at, but in a team of mavericks, taking on an anchoring role takes a different meaning. In 2013 and 2014, Amla’s average strike-rate was never above 85.00. Part of that was down to his partnership with young Quinton de Kock. De Kock was given the freedom to play the aggressor, while Amla simply had to rotate the strike. There is, however, a caveat. When De Kock does not perform, it’s the Amla and Du Plessis partnership that becomes paramount to South Africa’s innings. Du Plessis’ strike-rate batting at three is 83.48, and when the two are together, they take on a far more subtle approach.
Since 2012, the two have notched up the third-most runs for any partnerships, with 1,236 runs in 20 innings, including six 50-run and four 100-run partnerships. The stability they provide offers South Africa the luxury to let loose the might of AB de Villiers later on. Amla became the fastest to 20 ODI centuries in South Africa’s match against Ireland, and his consistency sets South Africa apart from some of their opposition. Out of those centuries, nine have come at a strike-rate of above 100, yet it never feels like Amla is batting at above a strike-rate of 80.00. Perhaps that is because he is surrounded by players like AB de Villiers, who make batting with a 100.00 strike-rate look average, but this is exactly what South Africa needs as the knockout stages approach.
Against Ireland earlier in the week, Amla’s hundred came at a run-a-ball, with Du Plessis’ at just over a run-a-ball, and you’d be forgiven if you did not notice. That’s the effect Amla can have on opposition and on his fellow batsmen. The subtlety of the aggression can stun opposition into submission. But Amla can also be aggressive when he needs to. Towards the latter stages of his innings, Amla showed just how destructive he can be when he abandons his usual elegant approach for something a little bit more brash. There was slogging and there was flicking, yet Amla still managed to make the complete lack of finesse look classy. Sure, it was “only Ireland”, but it underscored the importance of Amla’s versatility.
His influence, however, stretches far further than the run tally. Dale Steyn has often said that if he ever needs to find some Zen, he just glances over to Amla in the team bus. When South Africa were badly beaten by India, Amla kept it cool and said: we’re moving along, these things happen. Perspective was important because, although that loss exposed the cracks papered over by South Africa, it was also motivation, and instead of getting bogged down by panic, South Africa emerged from the chaos looking far more cohesive than they have all tournament.
“AB quite often speaks about the flow of the game. Today myself and Faf had a partnership going and we were pretty much settled in [that] partnership, and we felt that maybe this was the time to just get a little momentum going – we decided and we went with it. There’s no set formula when you decide to go. Any other day we could have tried it and we could have got out, but the benefit of that was: we had a long batting line-up, and the guy coming in would have had base to build an innings and get some runs. So he’s got to try and weigh the pros and the cons. But today was a day that kind of worked in our favour, but it doesn’t always go that way,” Amla said after their win against Ireland.
South Africa’s coolest player also revealed that he had been keeping up with modern times by making sure he put in some extra work in the nets to get some new shots in his arsenal. The best is probably still to come from Amla. And the fact that he can make scoring a hundred at a run-a-ball look like a steady stroll down a tree-lined street is exactly the kind of thing South Africa will need when the need to press panic buttons becomes overwhelming. DM
Photo: South Africa’s Hashim Amla plays a shot during their fifth One-Day International (ODI) cricket match against West Indies in Centurion January 28, 2015. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko