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December 15, 2013

Cricket's finest bloke?

Michael Jeh
Is Amla the most respected cricketer on the world circuit?  © AFP
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In between all the bad-tempered shenanigans in the Ashes, the humblest and most self-effacing cricketer on Planet Earth crept up on one of the gods of cricket and broke his record, almost apologetically, as if he had no right to be in heaven.

I refer to Hashim Amla becoming the fastest player to reach 4000 ODI runs, eclipsing the mighty Viv Richards. In so many different senses, you couldn't get players who were any more different in style and power. Amla has none of the swagger and brutality that Viv displayed in his pomp, and yet he is entitled to share in some of that reflected glory, much to the embarrassment of Amla himself.

To be fair to Sir Viv, if he had batted in these times, on flat tracks, facing bowlers who serve up a regular dose of full tosses and with only four men allowed out in the deep, to say nothing of the improved cricket bats, one shudders to think what carnage he may have caused. The general improvement in the standard of fielding might have been a limiting factor but Viv rarely got to plunder poor bowling attacks either. There were hardly any minnows around in his time.

But I digress; there is a danger that the real subject may slip under the radar, just the way Amla seems to prefer it. Quiet, unassuming, polite and humble, here is a man who perhaps owes his career to an even greater man, who has slipped away into the night - Nelson Mandela. I will declare my bias upfront. I am an Africa-phile, unashamedly obsessed with southern Africa in particular, and a huge admirer of the Mandela legacy. That admiration now stretches to an unabashed man crush on Amla.

He is one of the few in modern cricket that I truly admire as a person. My two young sons too have taken him to their hearts, partly because we love watching his wristy style but mainly because he just goes about his business without any rancour or malice. In a sport that has recently "undistinguished" itself by the crass and boorish behaviour of many of its luminaries, Amla is a fantastic role model.

He is living proof that you can score runs, and runs, and more runs without needing to resort to cheap excuses about needing to sledge or be sledged in order to fire up one's own competitive streak. I suspect Amla was the subject of some fierce sledging early in his career but the word on the street now is that most international opponents just leave him alone, perhaps out of respect and perhaps from the realisation that he is so secure in his own skin that he is immune to such immaturity.

Amla's serene demeanour may have come from his background, growing up in the Rainbow Nation post-apartheid. Perhaps as a child growing up in Durban, he may have experienced some of the teething problems that besieged South Africa when it emerged from its dark past in the early 1990s. I am fortunate enough to spend a lot of time in South Africa, and while I can appreciate that change of this magnitude comes slowly, I have only ever experienced a hospitality and warmth that defies all the stories I read as a child.

Amla is living proof that you can score runs, and runs, and more runs without needing to resort to cheap excuses about needing to sledge or be sledged

Admittedly I am not a native of this beautiful country and I haven't seen what lies beneath the surface, so it's hard to know if Amla has developed his serenity from learning to cope with being different. His popularity among his team-mates reflects what I've seen in modern South Africa - from the Afrikaners to the English to the Asian coloureds to various African tribes, all I've experienced is kindness and friendship, so much so that it was difficult to imagine, reading Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom, what it must have been like to grow up and live in the apartheid years.

So here's my question: of all the current players, leaving aside patriotic bias, is Amla the most "respected" on the world circuit? Of course we'll never know what goes on in the dressing rooms but on the surface of it, is there an opponent who genuinely dislikes Amla (the man and not the cricketer)? Other contenders for me would include Sachin Tendulkar, Mike Hussey, Shiv Chanderpaul and Muttiah Muralitharan (putting aside the controversies relating to his bowling action).

I'm talking here about that genuine good-bloke status that Amla seems to enjoy, even when he is calmly slicing an attack apart (and therefore presumably liable to copping a bit of frustrated vitriol from the fielding team).

From a pure batting perspective, I reckon he's as good a player to watch as any. His stunning knock in Perth last year was something to behold, a surgical dismembering of an attack, without the slightest hint of aggro. Even his celebrations are muted and dignified, which resonates with me but may not be enough for the marketers of gloss and showbiz.

I was moved to write this piece after watching Mandela's funeral, because Amla, more than any other person I can think of, reflects the dignity of Madiba and owes his presence on the world stage to Mandela's long walk to freedom.

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and is a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane

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Keywords: Spirit of cricket

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by OzHorse on (December 18, 2013, 15:45 GMT)

@MrGarreth

I'm going to try once more - removing a word that may have been causing some filter to exclude the posting. I'd love to see this put this music.

The Mighty Hash (Hash The Eskimo) - Part 1:

Chorus: Come on with flair, come on with dash. You'll not see nothing like the mighty Hash.

Every batsman's swinging, with big heavy bats. Front foot splayed out to leg. Just slogging away like hacks. Every purist, in despair. But finally there's hope. He's Hash the Eskimo, 'cause he's so cool. He's really gonna float ya boat.

Chorus.

Let him wear what he wants to wear, he likes his shirts booze clean. And he likes to destroy bowling attacks. Maybe that's what was meant by Dean. He's humility personified, and just a little coy. But when Hash the Eskimo come to bat. Everybody's gonna jump for joy.

Chorus.

Posted by nayonika on (December 17, 2013, 12:14 GMT)

Amla,for me is an amalgam of Dravid & Tendulkar both in the way he bats and conducts himself on and off the field. A very good batsman and a thorough gentleman.

Posted by   on (December 17, 2013, 9:59 GMT)

Thats really great Mr Amla you deserved this record and hats off to your attitute also.

Posted by   on (December 17, 2013, 6:51 GMT)

I would like to add that you don't have to be an exponent of T20 cricket, IPL etc. to be a world-class batsman. There's hope for Test cricket as long as people like Amla exist.

Posted by Bonehead_maz on (December 17, 2013, 0:12 GMT)

I personally think Ryan Harris is a fine bloke, although Hash obviously is too.

Posted by suharshan on (December 16, 2013, 17:04 GMT)

I would add Sangakkara and Misbah among current players

Posted by   on (December 16, 2013, 16:57 GMT)

Amla does not interest me. Jayasuriya broke all ODI records when he played. Fastest 100, fastest 50, fastest 150, most runs in an over, most sixes in an inning, most sixes in ODI cricket. some of these records were taken by Shahid Afridi and Gibbs. Amla will be forgotten.

Posted by   on (December 16, 2013, 15:47 GMT)

Amla is a magnificient batsman to watch and he is an excellent ambassador for the game of cricket. When sledging is the flavor of the day down under, Amla comes across as a person with values from the good old era when the game was played as per the spirits of the game. Wish Amla a long career at the top and he entertains people in the coming days in tests and ODIs.

Posted by Arif_Shah on (December 16, 2013, 15:10 GMT)

Saeed Anwar would be a Pakistani cricketer that comes to mind. None of his flamboyance as a stroke-maker was visible in his personality.

He even narrated an incident where McGrath once sledged him a bit and straight away after the day's play cam up to him to apologized.

Posted by Testcricketistop on (December 16, 2013, 14:52 GMT)

Posted by Narayan.Shastri on (December 16, 2013, 14:31 GMT)

Dravid has long been my favovourite Indian cricketer for many reasons, being the silent contributor, calm, humble and a great batsman.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Jeh
Born in Colombo, educated at Oxford and now living in Brisbane, Michael Jeh (Fox) is a cricket lover with a global perspective on the game. An Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, he is a Playing Member of the MCC and still plays grade cricket. Michael now works closely with elite athletes, and is passionate about youth intervention programmes. He still chases his boyhood dream of running a wildlife safari operation called Barefoot in Africa.

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