Hashim Amla has spoken out about the challenges faced by players of colour when they first break into the Proteas team, saying that “everybody doubts you for various reasons”.
This is why Amla is intent on helping Temba Bavuma conquer the same challenges he had faced at the start of his international career.
The 25-year-old Bavuma grew his legacy enormously when he stroked the England attack all around Newlands on Tuesday to become the first black African to score a Test hundred for South Africa.
Having just announced his shock resignation as Proteas Test captain on Wednesday after the second Test ended in a draw, Amla told of the impression the stylish Bavuma had made on the rest of the team in a sparkling 102 not out off just 141 balls in what was just his eighth innings in his seventh match at the highest level.
Bavuma, though, was the subject of many public selection debates as the Proteas brainstrust battled with how to accommodate wicket-keeper Quinton de Kock to take over the gloves from AB de Villiers.
The trio of Bavuma, JP Duminy and Faf du Plessis were under scrutiny for a run of bad form, and eventually the selectors decided to drop the scratchy Duminy.
But the pressure was enormous on Bavuma. Once Duminy had been jettisoned, it was clear that Du Plessis was not in danger of losing his place. Bavuma was the man in the spotlight – as black players always are in South African sport – and he needed to deliver an innings of substance if he was going to be part of the future at the Proteas.
And didn’t he just. When Amla, Du Plessis and AB de Villiers all got substantial runs, it would’ve been easy for any contribution from Bavuma to be lost in a total of over 600. But the manner in which he compiled his innings – sumptuous cuts and pulls, commanding cover drives and delightful laps and sweeps – captured the imagination of the over 16 000 people who were at Newlands on Tuesday.
A new hero for a democratic South Africa had arrived. “Temba’s a very good example for all of us. The way he batted in this game was very inspirational for even guys like me – the intent he showed. I wished when I was his age, I showed that type of confidence and intent that he showed,” Amla said.
“We both have very similar careers – the first time we do play international cricket, everyone doubts you. Either because of the colour of your skin, even though you’ve got the stats to back it up domestically, everybody doubts you for various reasons. The way he’s played, for me it’s testament to the environment we have in the team.
“Everybody in the team knew how talented he is. Potential he has, because he has done it before. It’s not like he just came into the team out of nowhere. So I was extremely happy, very proud, goosebump moments for everybody in the team because we knew the pressure he is under.
“Obviously personally, I know the pressure, what players of colour go through when they first come into the set-up – certainly in our country. So, it was emotional for a lot of us. I think a lot of us felt that like it was a victory for the Proteas in the sense that the team environment is in a very good space.”
Amla, with the unorthodox technique where his bat would come down from gully to hit the ball, was almost vilified by the media and public when he first came on to the scene in late 2004. After making his debut against India at the majestic Eden Gardens in Kolkata, Amla was tagged with the perception of having a weakness against the short ball as England managed to dismiss him a few times in that way in his next two Tests in Durban and Newlands.
He was dropped after scoring 62 runs in just six innings – hardly a fair chance to prove himself. It took him all of 15 months to get back into the Proteas side, and he made it count with 149 against New Zealand at Newlands.
He hasn’t looked back since, scoring 7 108 runs in 90 Tests at an average of 51.13, with 24 hundreds and the South African record of 311 not out.
The 32-year-old doesn’t want Bavuma, who was born and bred in Langa before moving to Johannesburg with his family during his high school years, to go through the same unfair trials and tribulations as a player of colour.
“I’m just happy to… I hope I played a small part in his success. And I’m glad that he quietened a lot of people down. Hopefully his Test career just gets better and better. Certainly the way he played here showed he could get into the other squads as well,” Amla said.
“Ja, it’s (not being captain) a bit of a relief because now I don’t need to worry about winning the toss! But we’ve got a leadership group within the team which is very important to create an environment (where) we’ve had successes like we’ve had for all colours of skin. I will try to continue that. Now I will have more time as I don’t have to worry about bowling changes!”