South Africa v Sri Lanka, Champions Trophy, Group B, The Oval June 3, 2017

Amla reasserts his 50-over greatness

Despite numerous achievements across the formats, Hashim Amla has often batted in the shadow of his team-mates - but his place in the ODI pantheon is secure
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Hashim Amla acknowledges the applause after getting to his 25th ODI ton © Getty Images

When Hashim Amla became the holder of the highest Test score by a South African, after his unbeaten 311 at The Oval in 2012, he was already the world's top-ranked ODI batsman but barely lauded as such. He was known as a long-form master and his triple-century, as well as another hundred in the series against England, confirmed that - though it only elevated him to No. 2 in the Test rankings. In the afterglow, he was asked what it felt like to be the best batsman in the world.

"I don't know, I'm not even the best batsman in my team," he replied.

It was a typically Amla-esque answer, draped in modesty, but it also hinted at a home truth. Playing in the same team as AB de Villiers has its drawbacks, even more so in limited-overs cricket.

De Villiers had been hailed as the best batsman of his generation, an era which straddles Tendulkar-Ponting-Kallis as well as Kohli-Williamson-Smith-Root. Amla has played in the same period but, although he occupied the top spot for a substantial time, he is seldom mentioned among the modern greats across all formats. His hundred in South Africa's Champions Trophy opener should change that.

It is not just that it was a(nother) impeccably timed bit of batting from Amla, whose first 27 balls yielded only 13 runs before the next 59 resulted in 71, or that he was the anchor of the 145-run second-wicket stand with Faf du Plessis that South Africa's innings was built on, or even that he contrasted wrists flicks with meaty blows like the two sixes he smashed into the crowd. It was what this innings says about Amla's place in the 50-over game.

This century was his 25th and it took him 151 innings to get there, faster than anyone else. He is also the fastest to 2000, 3000, 4000, 5000, 6000 and 7000 ODI runs - proof that Amla, with his classical style and calm demeanour, is actually a more aggressive run-scorer than his contemporaries. Add in his effectiveness - only two of Amla's 25 hundreds have been scored in defeat - and Amla's role in South Africa's success cannot be doubted.

So why does the spotlight seem to scan past Amla and shine more brightly on de Villiers and, more recently, Quinton de Kock and du Plessis? The answer is two-fold. De Villiers and de Kock are showstoppers, whose range of strokes are more emphatic than Amla's. While de Villiers now has a reputation that means even when he plays a pull too early and gifts a catch, as he did today, he will still steal headlines, de Kock has been South Africa's most successful run-scorer since the 2015 World Cup and his precocious talent will result in him being recognised for many a year to come.

Du Plessis has dominated talk less for his cricket and more for the off-field issues of the last 18 months. In that time, Amla stepped away from the Test captaincy to make way for a de Villiers-du Plessis debate, in which du Plessis eventually prevailed. The topical issues in South African cricket shifted from Amla's reluctance to lead, to de Villiers' reluctance to play Test cricket and desperation to win a World Cup, to du Plessis' desire to captain, which allowed Amla to slip into the shadows, just as he likes it.

For a while, Amla's form followed suit - which did not aid his claim to a place among the 'big four' batsman in the world. Amla went nine Test innings without a hundred, which included South Africa's victory in Australia, and then had a quiet ODI series in New Zealand, where he did not score fifty once. His lull coincided with purple patches for Steven Smith, Kane Williamson, Virat Kohli and Joe Root, meaning that even Amla's two IPL hundreds only briefly resurrected the conversation about his all-format ability. They also hinted at a return to the rhythm that South Africa are now benefitting from.

Ama has come on this England tour on the back of an IPL where he finished sixth on the run charts, with 420 runs at 60.00, and was allowed to adopt a more carefree approach to a game that can sometimes become so serious that batsmen lose their spontaneity. He joined the South Africa squad with what seems a renewed focus, knowing that, like many of the seniors, the time to win a major tournament is likely limited to the next two years. Though Amla has never said it in the same way de Villiers has, he also aims to be part of an ICC-event success story, and he showed it here.

He took on the responsibility South Africa needed against a Sri Lanka attack that was not entirely threatening but bookended the innings with fairly tight spells. Amla used the mid-section to press home South Africa's advantage. He upped the tempo, he punished the bad balls, he set it up for a burst at the end and though he seemed more annoyed than usual when was run-out, he put his team in a winning position. That's what a great does. There is no reason that Amla should not be counted among them.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ZCF on June 8, 2017, 8:36 GMT

    Nothing prevented AB from playing as an opener and piling on the runs. Several players retired giving him ample opportunity to assume that position - Gibbs and Smith come to mind. Secondly AB did open and failed at the role. He opted instead to bat lower than Amla and Kallis. There's no way anyone batsmen worth his salt could fail after such greatness coming in ahead of him. Same with Michael Bevan. Amla is by far the greatest ODI batsman in SA and indeed the world. AB is there and thereabouts.

  •   cricfan63507546 on June 6, 2017, 12:41 GMT

    continued,,,,,, Take ROhit sharma someone like him who was very inconsisitent got time to play himself in as a opener and his average as an opener is 53 plus. David warner has also learnt to play himself in and his record is improving everyday. de cock is also one of them, These modern rules favours opener, So I believe SRT was the best ODI opener due to his consistency and kind of fields and attacks he had to face early on. Not to mention he played quite a lot of matches as a No.5 before getting opening slot. At the same time ABD is the best ONE DAY BATSMAN world has ever seen and kohli is a pretty good chaser.

  •   cricfan63507546 on June 6, 2017, 12:28 GMT

    Amla is great in his own way. Nothing taking away from him i would still rate ABD above him. I believe its relatively easier for a opener to pile up runs in modern day cricket which is in contrast to a decade ago. This is all thanks to the rule changes like powerplays and the diminishing quality of bowling and add flat pitches to that. They get a lot of time to play themselves in and build an innings unlike someone as ABD who has to anchor the innings or go all out if the stage has been set for him. Think it this way, if Amla scores still you would want ab to fire and if he fails the situation doesnt change either. In the slot he bats expectations are pretty high and the fate of the game rests upon him. However inspite of all this he manages to score taking risks with amazing stike rate maintaining such an outstanding average speaks a lot for his bravado and skill. Coming back to opener runs being easy these days most of the successful batters in ODI are openers.

  • Vidyasagar on June 6, 2017, 9:24 GMT

    He need not claim a spot among the league of young promising big 4. Instead, he's already

  • marcus0182748 on June 5, 2017, 12:31 GMT

    Outstanding stuff from Hash. Nice tribute. For us...the connoisseurs. Batsmen of this ilk are the true greats with respect to his contemporaries of course. Long may it continue.

  • john on June 5, 2017, 11:57 GMT

    Still like to see ABD score properly against warne McGrath, which he couldn't do in 12 innings

  • Lloyd on June 5, 2017, 8:47 GMT

    I disagree with this article slightly. In 2012, 2013 and 2014 Amla was unstoppable. At the time he was widely acknowledged as the most reliable player in SA cricket and was even punted by some as the best performing sportsman in the country across all sports. It is no doubt that something changed after the world cup and the two years that followed were marred by a fair amount of inconsistency. In this time the above-mentioned batsmen around the world were all cruising. I think it is only in the last few seasons that he has moved out of the limelight because of the inconsistency. It is timely that he is getting back to his best. A performing Amla is an incredibly potent weapon.

  • randolf on June 4, 2017, 18:52 GMT

    "De Villiers had been hailed as the best batsman of his generation, an era which straddles Tendulkar-Ponting-Kallis as well as Kohli-Williamson-Smith-Root. Amla has played in the same period but, although he ['occupied the top spot for a substantial time'], he is seldom mentioned among the modern greats". In terms of the names mentioned above, there's no doubt that De Villiers is head and heels above them all. However, the only reason why Amla, his batting twin is not also rated among them, is because of his simplicity, and maybe his family name is not big in SA. But let's look at his ODI record for example, none of the above has come close to his exploits; but you still have Carnival barking so called cricket pundits selecting squads of up to 30 players and not mentioning his name in even the reserves! But what is great about him is the fact that it doesn't ever bother him a tiny smidgen - and that's good. let our cricket pundits continue to live in their personality likability past.

  • vishal on June 4, 2017, 15:29 GMT

    I dont know why people forgets that tendulkar scored his first century in 79th match when he started opening the innings. Before that he used to bat at 5. It was difficult to score century from no 5 in that era in ODI's. U deduct those innings and you will see he is very much in competition to Amla and kohli and ABD.

  • Jason on June 4, 2017, 14:52 GMT

    In this era Amla is special.

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