JOHANNESBURG – I will admit this, I was among the group – and it was a large one – that reckoned Hashim Amla aka the Mighty # – should have saved himself for the Test format.
Amla made his ODI debut two and bit years after playing his first Test. His initial forays in the Test arena were a struggle, but by 2008 he was well established at No 3 and had played some sensational innings’ in memorable wins against New Zealand, India and in England.
Amla made his debut batting at three in the ODI team against Bangladesh. He got a taste of the opening spot when Graeme Smith’s 2008 England tour ended because of ‘tennis elbow’ and really hasn’t looked back since.
The initial concern was that he wouldn’t be able to bat at the requisite pace required for One-Day cricket. Looking back, I was an idiot, especially when you consider the rate at which batsmen score these days and that Amla looks so darn comfortable scoring as quickly as he does.
My opinion on Amla the ODI batsman changed with a century he scored against the West Indies in May 2010. It was a brutally hot day in Roseau, Dominica, and South Africa were asked to chase 304.
Amla ‘anchored’ the innings batting until the 38th over and scoring 129 off 114 balls. The innings included nine fours and two sixes and there were even a few ugly ‘hoicks’ thrown in for good measure toward the end as tiredness overwhelmed him. He was put on a drip afterwards.
But that innings showed off Amla’s enormous skill-set. The West Indies packed the off-side field and bowled a foot or so outside the off-stump praying on his patience.
However, it was the home-team that was left frustrated as time after time Amla threaded the ball between fielders, regardless of where Chris Gayle, captaining the West Indies, put them.
His ability to find the gap in the field is uncanny. It may be asked, ‘but isn’t that the job of any decent batsman?’ And yes, that is the case, but it takes tremendous skill to do it and Amla has used his skill to become a prolific One-Day player.
His innings against Sri Lanka last week was clever, less cavalier than what many expect in modern limited overs cricket, but it took him to recognise that conditions weren’t as ‘batting friendly’ as they appeared to the naked eye and he adapted his innings accordingly.
This country has been fortunate to be blessed by many great limited overs players – from Lance Klusener, to Gary Kirsten, Herschelle Gibbs and lately AB de Villiers. Despite all his records – Amla isn’t often spoken about in that category. Perhaps, now that he sits alone atop charts for the most hundreds by a South Africa, that will be the case.