July 26, 2012

The wristy joy of Amla

His batting is cause for celebration and his achievements reflect the greater cultural richness now evident in South Africa
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Hashim Amla: born 31st March 1983, Durban, South Africa. Sixty Test matches, 4775 runs, 15 hundreds, 50.26 average. (One day cricket: 2881 runs, nine hundreds, 56.49 average.) Those are the figures. They don't begin to tell the story.

Amla's grandparents are out of Gujarat, a dry state. When he earned a place in the South African side, the first of Indian descent to do so, he asked to be allowed to not wear the South African Breweries sponsor logo. His wish was granted, saying much about the respect in which he was held by those who mattered. The jealous few said he was a "quota" player - one of the beneficiaries of "affirmative action" - but whether this was the case or not is irrelevant. He is man and cricketer, chosen by others. What was he to do? Turn the place down? Though not always sensibly applied, the principle of affirmative action was the right thing at the right time. Among others, Amla is proof.

While many raged against the machine, Amla went about his business. Public emotion is not his thing, though goodness knows what he has felt inside. He tends to downgrade the family tree and says simply, "I am a South African." He celebrates with the same enthusiasm as his team-mates, if not with their gusto, for there are good times to be had without alcohol - ask Shaun Pollock. Educated, thoughtful, humble, generous, amusing, Amla has the respect of the dressing room. This is the place that finds out a cricketer.

His captain had few words left for the 311 runs made. Graeme Smith glowed, in part because of his own joy at the entire match, and in part because his superb leadership has encouraged Amla to take centre stage himself. Smith came after apartheid, a lucky break, and only knows all men equal. Ten days ago Paul Simon played Graceland to 50,000 people in Hyde Park. He sang "The Boy in the Bubble": "These are the days of miracle and wonder / This is the long distance call / The way the camera follows us in slo-mo / The way we look to us all."

Of course, the innings showed us much about inner strength and desire, but, best of all perhaps, it gave us time to appreciate a considerable talent. The surprise with Amla is that he looks like he is trying, which is unusual for one whose strokes appear so effortless. His footwork is a paragon of economy - mainly back in defence, then forward in attack. Nothing is exaggerated, bar the quirky backlift that many a coach has studied before concluding against the suggestion of change.

Of modern batsmen, VVS Laxman, Sachin Tendulkar and Mahela Jayawardene stand out as stylists. Ian Bell is close and Amla is next among equals. In the age of the big hit, ease and grace provide welcome release. Barry Richards, who trod the boards at Durban High School 40 years previous to the man who wears his stylist's crown today, will delight in Amla's off-side play, which punctures gaps with absurd regularity, and in the potency of strokes either side of point and extra cover that skim across the turf with delicious timing and no hint of risk.

Nothing about Amla is exaggerated, bar the quirky backlift that many a coach has studied before concluding against the suggestion of change

I like the off-drives, which come in two flavours. The first is a kind of check shot that punches both the ball and the opponent back from whence they came. This is played with softly held hands but firm wrists that confirm the blade straight at impact, allowing the transferred weight of the body to create the power. The second comes with a longer stride forward or back, with the same gentle hands but with a looser, almost rubberised, use of wrists that flick the bat through impact. The whiplash effect is remarkable, not unlike that created by Mohammad Azharuddin, and is finished by a dramatic follow-through that wraps the bat around the surprisingly narrow shoulders of the executioner.

The secret to Amla's play is this use of wrists, which allow late contact with the ball and no loss of power. The Oval pitch was slow but the Indian in him transcended it, more so than Smith, Jacques Kallis or Alastair Cook, who recorded fine innings of their own. If Laxman is not quite the right comparison, perhaps Mohammad Yousuf, nee Youhana, is nearest in aesthetics. Certainly Yousuf has similar patience and the same sense of collected calm that says all is well with the world when I'm at the wicket.

Yousuf used to speak highly of Graeme Swann, thinking him the hardest spinner to beat in the battle of flight. Frequent attempts to use his feet and get to the pitch resulted in panic, so in the end he stayed home and played from the crease. Amla took this a stage further at The Oval by taking guard on off stump and playing back to a vast percentage of the balls he faced - straightforward enough, given the lack of pace. This meant that a forward stride took him well outside the line of off stump and allowed him to work the ball with the spin and without undue risk. Occasionally frustration forced Swann to overpitch and then, whoosh, Amla struck. In the conditions, the diminishing of Swann was the key to unlock England's attack. Amla played it perfectly.

It is a bit of a cliché to say that Amla speaks for South Africa today. However, we can acknowledge that his batting is cause for celebration and that his achievements reflect the greater cultural richness now evident in his land. Yes, he has fought his battles but only those fought by other sportsmen - battles of form, fitness, insecurity and selection - in every corner of the world. The 300 showed us more of him, but we will never see it all; that is for family and trusted friends. This is one cool customer, warming to his task. A final thought: don't play him at poker.

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • on July 29, 2012, 12:10 GMT

    Clearly by-far the best finds of South African Cricket......! Gr8 watching him play.... don't see much test players existing now a days due to T20 and ODI's....! only a good test player can make it to the top of the Game & Amla have proved it.....! would want to see more in future... Insha Allah

  • on July 27, 2012, 14:11 GMT

    This is really a wonderful judgement about Amla who is the batsman having combination of both subcontinent and western styles. I wonder how he has got the elegance and temperament from the two cricketing world. Even though he is so wristy as VVS , in the term of feet movement Yusuf Youhana is the right choice to compare with him.

  • Dravid_Pujara_Gravitas on July 27, 2012, 13:45 GMT

    Fantastic tribute to a fantastic batsman. But when you talk of stylists how could you think that you could sandwich Statchin in between VVS and Mahela but leave out Mark Waugh and Brian Lara?

  • Rumy1 on July 27, 2012, 11:18 GMT

    Amla is clearly one of the top three Test batsmen of our times. He is not only superb in Tests but also in ODIs. Look at his record in the past 60 ODIs. He averages at 55+. He is clearly a legend in making. If Kalis doesn't go past Sachin in number of Test 100s then Sangakkara and Amla are the next to take a shot at it. He has the potential and temperament to play 100 more Tests and even if he hits a 100 every third Test he is going to be there. If you look at Tests Sangakkara, Amla and Kallis are the top three. If you look at ODIs Amla, Devilliers and Kohli are the top three. Overall Amla looks the best on the international circuit.

  • RandyOZ on July 27, 2012, 10:17 GMT

    What happened to ortress England Mark?

  • on July 27, 2012, 5:44 GMT

    Smith,Amla, Kallis all three great batsmen for SA. Probably they need couple of more such

  • Sulli001 on July 27, 2012, 1:31 GMT

    Mark, Nice article, but, Ian Bell...really??...He's not anywhere nears close to being in the same league as VVS, ST , Jayawardene or for that matter Amla. Trott or Cook possibly in a few more years.

  • PPD123 on July 26, 2012, 22:01 GMT

    Oh I was so frustrated with him the last time he was in India. He just kept getting huge scores. I was of the opinion that the Indian bowling was such that anyone with a broom will be able to hit top form. Now i see it differently. I truly believe he has matured into a very stylish batsman and if he keeps his form and hunger, could end up being one of the legends for SA. The beauty about his game (and I must add Trott) is that they play percentage cricket. Not many things will go wrong v/s how a sehwag or Gayle go, where they play to the galleries and are bound to have more failures. Fantastic triple hundred though. Great batting. Love seeing Eng being put under the pump.

  • Unmesh_cric on July 26, 2012, 20:26 GMT

    Amla's batting is a joy to watch...much like VVS Laxman. There is no rage in his shots. He doesn't "hit" the ball, just caresses it with pure timing.

  • Big_Chikka on July 26, 2012, 19:13 GMT

    Mark, well said, are you always this well balanced?

  • on July 29, 2012, 12:10 GMT

    Clearly by-far the best finds of South African Cricket......! Gr8 watching him play.... don't see much test players existing now a days due to T20 and ODI's....! only a good test player can make it to the top of the Game & Amla have proved it.....! would want to see more in future... Insha Allah

  • on July 27, 2012, 14:11 GMT

    This is really a wonderful judgement about Amla who is the batsman having combination of both subcontinent and western styles. I wonder how he has got the elegance and temperament from the two cricketing world. Even though he is so wristy as VVS , in the term of feet movement Yusuf Youhana is the right choice to compare with him.

  • Dravid_Pujara_Gravitas on July 27, 2012, 13:45 GMT

    Fantastic tribute to a fantastic batsman. But when you talk of stylists how could you think that you could sandwich Statchin in between VVS and Mahela but leave out Mark Waugh and Brian Lara?

  • Rumy1 on July 27, 2012, 11:18 GMT

    Amla is clearly one of the top three Test batsmen of our times. He is not only superb in Tests but also in ODIs. Look at his record in the past 60 ODIs. He averages at 55+. He is clearly a legend in making. If Kalis doesn't go past Sachin in number of Test 100s then Sangakkara and Amla are the next to take a shot at it. He has the potential and temperament to play 100 more Tests and even if he hits a 100 every third Test he is going to be there. If you look at Tests Sangakkara, Amla and Kallis are the top three. If you look at ODIs Amla, Devilliers and Kohli are the top three. Overall Amla looks the best on the international circuit.

  • RandyOZ on July 27, 2012, 10:17 GMT

    What happened to ortress England Mark?

  • on July 27, 2012, 5:44 GMT

    Smith,Amla, Kallis all three great batsmen for SA. Probably they need couple of more such

  • Sulli001 on July 27, 2012, 1:31 GMT

    Mark, Nice article, but, Ian Bell...really??...He's not anywhere nears close to being in the same league as VVS, ST , Jayawardene or for that matter Amla. Trott or Cook possibly in a few more years.

  • PPD123 on July 26, 2012, 22:01 GMT

    Oh I was so frustrated with him the last time he was in India. He just kept getting huge scores. I was of the opinion that the Indian bowling was such that anyone with a broom will be able to hit top form. Now i see it differently. I truly believe he has matured into a very stylish batsman and if he keeps his form and hunger, could end up being one of the legends for SA. The beauty about his game (and I must add Trott) is that they play percentage cricket. Not many things will go wrong v/s how a sehwag or Gayle go, where they play to the galleries and are bound to have more failures. Fantastic triple hundred though. Great batting. Love seeing Eng being put under the pump.

  • Unmesh_cric on July 26, 2012, 20:26 GMT

    Amla's batting is a joy to watch...much like VVS Laxman. There is no rage in his shots. He doesn't "hit" the ball, just caresses it with pure timing.

  • Big_Chikka on July 26, 2012, 19:13 GMT

    Mark, well said, are you always this well balanced?

  • Shafaet_001 on July 26, 2012, 16:32 GMT

    Amla's batting is really great to watch. When gibb's was dropped i was very sad but amla really filled the gap. Gibbs was a fantastic batsman but very inconsistent, amla has strike rate like gibbs and very consistent too. He is destined to become a great, he and ab will rule the batting world in next 5-6 years along with trot and kohli.

  • naphy23 on July 26, 2012, 16:16 GMT

    A grand innings crafted by a fine batsman and narrated by a refined scribe. Perfect. Thank you Mark.

  • on July 26, 2012, 15:34 GMT

    @kabirahsanu. I think he meant that Amla has an excellent poker face, since he emotes little expression and is able to remain calm on most occasions!! So, he could take you to the cleaner's if you decide to go ahead and challenge him to a game of poker!!

  • SurlyCynic on July 26, 2012, 15:05 GMT

    Sorry, but the Sherminator is not better to watch than Amla.

  • Kirstenfan on July 26, 2012, 14:44 GMT

    And such a humble gentleman too - Amla is a hero

  • on July 26, 2012, 13:38 GMT

    Grt Mar an excekllent article on Hashim Amla,

  • on July 26, 2012, 12:52 GMT

    @kabirahsanul : I think he meant.. Don't play against him at poker.. since he will be good

  • Shams on July 26, 2012, 12:44 GMT

    Nice article on Amla, he deserves all the praise he is receiving. But, modern batsmen, stylists and no mention of Lara!

  • The_Ogres on July 26, 2012, 12:21 GMT

    Mohammad Yousuf, ne Youhana, would be the correct orthography.

  • on July 26, 2012, 12:14 GMT

    Love to read artickes of this caliber

  • yunaimin on July 26, 2012, 12:11 GMT

    Sorry to be pedantic but it should be Mohammad Yousuf né Youhana, rather than *nee Youhana. Née is the form used for females, which Yousuf is obviously not. Moving on, excellent tribute to Hashim Amla. What a batsman.

  • CamS71 on July 26, 2012, 11:28 GMT

    Class act this lad & England are going to have to come up with a plan for him double quick, otherwise this series is gone (if it's not already).

  • kabirahsanul on July 26, 2012, 10:56 GMT

    Final thought: Don't play him poker...Why not? He will be very good in Poker too?

  • AbhijeetC on July 26, 2012, 9:28 GMT

    well written article, and spot on comparison with Mohammad Yousuf.....however I still think, Mohammad Yousuf....Yohanna played with more clam and flow......not undermining Amla's efforts.....

  • din7 on July 26, 2012, 9:18 GMT

    Awsome article mark. Amla is the best. till now i rated him as good but after seeing his 311 i have no doubt he's the best. we have got our new dravid. His shots are awesome to watch like that of dravid. the elgant cover drive he plays is as best as any1. I just hope he doesn't go underrated like dravid was cause of sachin(utterly selfish). Amla is also such a good human being, i hardly see any1 sledging him, i would really not want any1 to sledge him. there's a limited goodness left in the world...let it survive.

  • Sanjiyan on July 26, 2012, 9:07 GMT

    Amla is fantastic to watch. I wish i had 1/10th of his trechnique. I would be rattling off hundreds like theres no tomorrow. We, as cricket followers, are truely blessed to see such gorgeous strokeplay in the times of fast food cricket. He doesnt seem to get ruffled at all, no matter the situation. I take my hat off to you mr Amla! May we enjoy the fantastic cricketer and person that you are for many years to come.

  • on July 26, 2012, 8:36 GMT

    @vippatz he wasn't fasting actually...after the match he said that he was dissapointed that he wasn't able to do that.however if he plays like this it will destroy the much hyped english attack

  • Mahesh4811 on July 26, 2012, 8:31 GMT

    Everything you write Mark, it feels equally smooth and wonderful as Amla's innings :-)

  • ballonbat on July 26, 2012, 8:04 GMT

    I have a feeling, Mr Nicolas, that you could wait a lifetime for that poker game! Can you imagine Shane Warne and Hashim Amla sitting down for a couple of hands? Just one thing. This is a great piece, celebrating the new generation of players from other backgrounds and races who can now fight for a place in the Proteas team on an equal footing. But don't forget that Amla isn't the first. Almost 15 years ago Ntini played his first Test match and before him there was Omar Henry. There were also Adams, Gibbs, Ngam, Zondeki, Prince and Ontong among others.

  • MrGarreth on July 26, 2012, 7:56 GMT

    Just listening to the gasps followed by applause of the English crowd for every shot he played is high testament to what a fantastic player Amla is. South Africa is very fortunate and proud to have him.

  • Ghinva on July 26, 2012, 7:52 GMT

    Just Lovelyy Mr.Mark!! sweet analysis & the way you have given heights to all best of test cricketers is admirable..unbiased & smooth...lovve it,,keep it up Mr.Nicholas

  • Romanticstud on July 26, 2012, 7:37 GMT

    Most people talk about Kallis as the leading batsman ... yes because he has the most runs / hundreds among the South Africans ... In the last 5 Years though the following stats say Amla 4159, runs Kallis 4131 runs yes little to choose Amla 311* / Kallis 224 ... Over 4 years Amla has 3031 Runs and Kallis only 2880 Runs ... Amla's average in the last 4 years is 60.62 compared to 58.57 over 5 years ... Kallis' average is 62.6 from 63.55 in the same period ... Yes Kallis' average is higher but now is the crunch ...Amla's strike rate is 54.19 from 52.94 ... and Kallis is relatively constant 53.05 from 53.23 ... So Amla has improved his scoring rate ... but also his control of when to hold back and when to accelerate ...

  • Alexk400 on July 26, 2012, 7:29 GMT

    I think SA need to make Amla just batsman and not put captaincy role for him. I think SA need kallis type to hold the batting, Amla is perfect for another 6 years. He showed toughness even when he first visited india. I think everyone have weakness when you start to score more and more people watch film and find where you are unbalanced. SA can whitewash england if they Keep up aggression and not relax. That will show how bad India played against england and even in australia.

  • on July 26, 2012, 7:28 GMT

    Well written article. Amla has a great future ahead of him and one day, he could possibly end up captaining SA. Anyway, all the best to him and SA in the upcoming matches.

  • Nutcutlet on July 26, 2012, 7:04 GMT

    I love articles like this! The man behind the cricketer should be of interest and consequence to all who love & follow this greatest of team games. The way a man plays the game reveals so much of his character - how he deals with adversity in defeat; how he deals with authority in the form of the umpires; how graciously he greets success - how he combines the combative with the courteous in his dealings with the opposition, how he is regarded by the other members of his team, & so on. Amla is a role model par excellence and with his quiet & dignified demeanour, he is a superb advertisement for our sport as he embodies all the traditional virtues associated with it. And on top of these qualities he is incapable of anything other that sublime grace in his execution of his strokes, his bat a wand.. We are lucky indeed to be able to appreciate his many, many qualities - to live in the same age as he. Would that others would take lessons from his example - in all respects!

  • Percy_Fender on July 26, 2012, 6:45 GMT

    A splendid piece by Marc Nicolas on a gifted cricketer. Perhaps the beard is what makes Hashim look more similar to Yousuf Yohanna. Never saw the late W G and so cannot really say.To me his strokes particularly on the leg side look more Laxman. Amla is also unlike most cricketers of today who are so full of noise. That is what makes him special to me. He must rank as one of the greats of this era. Fit to be talked of in the same breath as the Azhars, the Sachins and the Laxmans of possibly the generation gone by.Cricket at its lyrical best.

  • on July 26, 2012, 6:21 GMT

    Hashim Amla still has a long long way to go, and plenty of records to accomplish. he and his team will make new records.........best of luck to Amla and team SouthAfrica!!!

  • on July 26, 2012, 6:19 GMT

    The important thing i found on him is,, never gets tired after all.. Scored a ever patient innings one that mattered, but the wrist works are impeccable!! Hitting a triple ton during FASTING,, hats off!!

  • Miandad280 on July 26, 2012, 6:16 GMT

    What a delicious, delightful, nuanced analysis. A treat. Thank you, Mark Nicholas. And of course, thank you Hashim Amla.

  • alikhan224 on July 26, 2012, 6:06 GMT

    An excellent article about an extraordinary batsman, who has an unbelievable quality of staying cool and calm, in no matter whatever conditions..and without any doubt, the most humble player of the modern cricket...GOD bless u amla and keep on scoring loads of runs against england.

  • praveen1969 on July 26, 2012, 5:59 GMT

    Amla is the latest in the world of "Artists" who are so pleasing to the eye that you applaud even if you are losing. He looks set to carry forward the wizardary of G Vishwanath, Azharuddin, Mark Waugh & yes VVS Laxman. After watching VVS struggle in the last year i thought we would never see the wristy canvas work again but thanks to Amla its back (not with a bang but like a soothing symphony)

  • lethal007 on July 26, 2012, 4:06 GMT

    the calmness he carries with himself is extraordinary...... in a age of utter power and sheer hitting, Amla has certainly brought skill and class with eye pleasing cover drives............

  • SouthPaw on July 26, 2012, 3:43 GMT

    Thank you for a well written piece, one that gives us a peek into what Amla is made of.

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  • SouthPaw on July 26, 2012, 3:43 GMT

    Thank you for a well written piece, one that gives us a peek into what Amla is made of.

  • lethal007 on July 26, 2012, 4:06 GMT

    the calmness he carries with himself is extraordinary...... in a age of utter power and sheer hitting, Amla has certainly brought skill and class with eye pleasing cover drives............

  • praveen1969 on July 26, 2012, 5:59 GMT

    Amla is the latest in the world of "Artists" who are so pleasing to the eye that you applaud even if you are losing. He looks set to carry forward the wizardary of G Vishwanath, Azharuddin, Mark Waugh & yes VVS Laxman. After watching VVS struggle in the last year i thought we would never see the wristy canvas work again but thanks to Amla its back (not with a bang but like a soothing symphony)

  • alikhan224 on July 26, 2012, 6:06 GMT

    An excellent article about an extraordinary batsman, who has an unbelievable quality of staying cool and calm, in no matter whatever conditions..and without any doubt, the most humble player of the modern cricket...GOD bless u amla and keep on scoring loads of runs against england.

  • Miandad280 on July 26, 2012, 6:16 GMT

    What a delicious, delightful, nuanced analysis. A treat. Thank you, Mark Nicholas. And of course, thank you Hashim Amla.

  • on July 26, 2012, 6:19 GMT

    The important thing i found on him is,, never gets tired after all.. Scored a ever patient innings one that mattered, but the wrist works are impeccable!! Hitting a triple ton during FASTING,, hats off!!

  • on July 26, 2012, 6:21 GMT

    Hashim Amla still has a long long way to go, and plenty of records to accomplish. he and his team will make new records.........best of luck to Amla and team SouthAfrica!!!

  • Percy_Fender on July 26, 2012, 6:45 GMT

    A splendid piece by Marc Nicolas on a gifted cricketer. Perhaps the beard is what makes Hashim look more similar to Yousuf Yohanna. Never saw the late W G and so cannot really say.To me his strokes particularly on the leg side look more Laxman. Amla is also unlike most cricketers of today who are so full of noise. That is what makes him special to me. He must rank as one of the greats of this era. Fit to be talked of in the same breath as the Azhars, the Sachins and the Laxmans of possibly the generation gone by.Cricket at its lyrical best.

  • Nutcutlet on July 26, 2012, 7:04 GMT

    I love articles like this! The man behind the cricketer should be of interest and consequence to all who love & follow this greatest of team games. The way a man plays the game reveals so much of his character - how he deals with adversity in defeat; how he deals with authority in the form of the umpires; how graciously he greets success - how he combines the combative with the courteous in his dealings with the opposition, how he is regarded by the other members of his team, & so on. Amla is a role model par excellence and with his quiet & dignified demeanour, he is a superb advertisement for our sport as he embodies all the traditional virtues associated with it. And on top of these qualities he is incapable of anything other that sublime grace in his execution of his strokes, his bat a wand.. We are lucky indeed to be able to appreciate his many, many qualities - to live in the same age as he. Would that others would take lessons from his example - in all respects!

  • on July 26, 2012, 7:28 GMT

    Well written article. Amla has a great future ahead of him and one day, he could possibly end up captaining SA. Anyway, all the best to him and SA in the upcoming matches.