When Hashim Amla made his Test debut six years ago, few would have thought he'd be such a force in one-day internationals later in his career: after all, dogged defence was his preferred mode, and he demonstrated that in his first Test innings at home, when he scored 1 off 31 deliveries in Durban in 2004. In fact, South Africa's selectors seemed to have slotted him as a specialist Test batsman: in the first 40 months of his international career, Amla played 22 Tests and zero ODIs.
In the last 12 months, though, plenty has changed. So much so that Amla is the leading ODI batsman in 2010, and has scored runs almost at will in the format. In 13 ODI innings this year he has scored five hundreds and three fifties, and averages 82.16 at a strike rate of 103.13.
That form has rubbed off on his Test cricket as well, and 2010 has been his finest year as a Test batsman too, with an average of 79.60 in seven Tests. Over the last three years, Amla's fortunes in Test cricket too have improved considerably compared to the period before 2008: he averages almost 55 during this period and has scored runs in almost every series. His only disappointment, quite surprisingly, was in the West Indies earlier this year, when six innings fetched him only 122 runs.
|Period||Tests||Runs||Average||Strike rate||100s/ 50s|
|Till Dec 2007||18||1042||32.56||44.70||3/ 5|
|Jan 2008 onwards||28||2341||54.44||50.68||7/ 11|
However, it's as an ODI batsman that Amla has truly been a revelation - both with his consistency and his strike rate. Admittedly these are early days in Amla's career in this format, but he has racked up some amazing numbers so far. Among batsmen who've scored at least 1500 runs, Amla's average is easily the highest, though this also needs to be tempered with the fact that the next three batsmen in the list below have played at least four times as many matches as Amla has.
|Batsman||ODIs||Runs||Average||Strike rate||100s/ 50s|
|Hashim Amla||35||1834||61.13||92.53||6/ 9|
|Michael Bevan||232||6912||53.58||74.16||6/ 46|
|Michael Hussey||148||4427||52.70||88.31||2/ 33|
|MS Dhoni||172||5733||50.28||88.34||7/ 37|
|Zaheer Abbas||62||2572||47.62||84.80||7/ 13|
|Viv Richards||187||6721||47.00||90.20||11/ 45|
|Glenn Turner||41||1598||47.00||68.05||3/ 9|
|Jacques Kallis||305||10,904||45.81||72.69||17/ 79|
|Sachin Tendulkar||442||17,598||45.12||86.26||46/ 93|
|Gordon Greenidge||128||5134||45.03||64.92||11/ 31|
What Amla has achieved in 2010 is still spectacular, though - he has been dismissed below 30 only once in 13 innings, while his lowest strike rate in an innings this year has been 84.46, when he scored 87 off 103 balls against India in Ahmedabad. In all other innings he achieved a strike rate of at least 90, and on eight occasions he scored at faster than a run a ball.
The two Michaels, Hussey and Bevan, and MS Dhoni are immediately after Amla in the table above, and all of them had spectacular starts to their ODI careers. However, one huge difference between Amla and these batsmen is that while Hussey, Bevan and Dhoni batted down the order in most of their ODI innings, Amla has almost always opened (with only a couple of innings at No. 3). Batting down the order has meant many more not-outs, which boost the average: after 34 innings, Amla's aggregate is at least 500 more than the three batsmen listed below, but while Amla has been not out only four times so far, Hussey was unbeaten 18 times in his first 34 innings, while the corresponding numbers for Bevan and Dhoni were 15 and 11.
|Batsman||Runs||Average||Strike rate||100s/ 50s|
|Michael Hussey||1308||81.75||99.01||1/ 9|
|Michael Bevan||1122||59.05||76.17||0/ 7|
|MS Dhoni||1204||52.34||106.45||2/ 6|
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Amla's ODI batting has been his all-round composure: he handles pace and spin with equal ease, and he is as comfortable batting in the first 15 overs as he is when the field is spread out. The two tables below list his numbers at various stages of an ODI innings, and against pace and spin. In the first 15 overs he has been outstanding, averaging more than 100 and scoring at more than six runs per over. In the middle overs the average and strike rate drop a bit, but he still keeps the runs coming at a fair clip. He plays far more dot balls - almost 50% of the total balls he faces - in the first 15, which is entirely understandable since the field is in close during this period. What's also outstanding is his dot-ball percentage in the middle overs - 32.68% - which means he scores off nearly 70% of deliveries during this period.
|Period||Runs||Balls||Dismissals||Average||Run rate||4s/ 6s||Dot balls|
|First 15 overs||667||649||6||111.16||6.16||84/ 4||315|
|16.1 to 40||519||560||10||51.90||5.56||30/ 1||183|
|40.1 onwards||34||30||0||-||6.80||3/ 0||8|
The dot-ball stat also indicates his comfort levels with spin bowling, which is mostly used in the middle overs of an innings. In fact, there is little to choose between Amla's numbers against pace and spin - the difference in average is less than a run, and the run rates are very similar too.
|Type||Runs||Balls||Dismissals||Average||Run rate||4s/ 6s||Dot balls|
And then, of course, there's Amla's record in Tests in the last three years. It's also an indication of South Africa's batting strength that despite him averaging 54.44, he is only third in the list of their batsmen in terms of averages. And of the six specialist batsmen who've scored more than 1000 Test runs for South Africa during this period, the one with the lowest average is Jacques Kallis - that's a stat that deserves a separate column of analysis.
|Graeme Smith||27||2588||61.61||9/ 10|
|AB de Villiers||28||2159||59.97||7/ 10|
|Hashim Amla||28||2341||54.44||7/ 11|
|Ashwell Prince||23||1331||49.29||5/ 4|
|Neil McKenzie||17||1225||47.11||3/ 3|
|Jacques Kallis||28||1844||43.90||6/ 7|
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo