Johannesburg – Zubayr Hamza is still only 26 years old. It does feel like he’s had a much longer career already, but that’s just because his face has seemingly been everywhere for a long while.
That’s what happens with prodigies. Hamza was the ‘next big thing,’ in South African cricket five years ago, a path to international stardom seemed clear – ‘Hash’s replacement,’ many thought. He handled his debut against Pakistan in 2019, with composure and in his second Test, against India in Ranchi, made a delightful first innings 62, amidst an otherwise dysfunctional batting performance.
Some of that confidence he carried over into his third Test, against England at Centurion, striking some delightful boundaries in making 39. And then the English quicks sorted him out - he ‘lost his off stump’ in that series and after the third Test, he lost his spot in the side too.
Back at domestic level, the mental demons took hold. He couldn’t buy a run, while trying to carry the extra weight of captaincy at the Cape Cobras too. “When things don’t go your way you start looking for issues that might not necessarily be there, the majority of the issues revolved around the mental space I was in at the time,” Hamza said this week.
He is back in the Proteas squad, the One-Day unit, for a series against the Netherlands later this month. It’s a strange journey for a player, who for most of his career has been viewed as a ‘red ball specialist.’ But the same used to be said of Hashim Amla, and he did alright in the 50-overs format.
“Fortunately, towards the back end of last season, I managed to turn that poor run of form around. I started enjoying my cricket a lot more, by just keeping things as simple as possible.”
It was in the last competition of the franchise era – the CSA T20 Challenge in Durban earlier this year – that Hamza relocated his mojo. Given a spot at the top of the order, he looked relaxed and confident, the stylish drives were back – the posing afterwards most notably wasn’t – and throughout that competition he became a major contributor for the Cobras.
A spell playing club cricket in England followed and then he made a double-century for South Africa A in a four-day match against Zimbabwe A in June. The T20 Knock Out tournament, suggested the form found in Durban last season, was still with him and he opened that competition with a century, followed by a knock of 62, two games later. In Western Province’s last match, against Boland in the Four-Day series he scored an attacking 94.
All of that led to the call up for the Proteas. “It’s good to get recognition for the form in the last little while,” said Hamza. “I’ve figured out ways to score in different areas, to up my strike rate and it’s been a learning curve, a lot of people have helped me. I still feel there is a lot of progress to be made, but I’m very happy with the progress so far.”
Asked what motivated the change in fortunes and in particular, this more adventurous approach with the bat, Hamza chuckled, saying: “ It was a bit of spite.”
“You always want to get one up on the naysayers. People had boxed me in over the last few years. It was never really an issue for me. Playing ‘white ball’ cricket has always been a goal of mine, it is something that I enjoy, so I felt why not just back my game to meet the standards that cricket around the world is setting.”
“For me it’s to continually adapt, to find new ideas, and become a better allround batter in the different formats. It’s about applying myself to whatever gameplan that I choose to use with regard to the respective format.”
The reason he’s getting the opportunity against the Dutch is not lost on Hamza. “I’m under no illusions that the national side is resting the majority of the senior players, for me it's just an honor and a privilege, to hopefully represent my country in the ODI format and take that opportunity. If I take my opportunities, I’ll be putting pressure on someone higher up. That’s my goal, and to enjoy it as well.”
The first ODI between South Africa and the Netherlands will be played at SuperSport Park on November 26.