The bearded wonder
Hashim Amla's triple-century at The Oval did several things for the team and the series: it completely shut England out of the Test and set South Africa up for a magnificent victory, which has in turn given them a fine chance to wrest the No. 1 spot from England. It did something significant for the batsman too: before he began the innings, Amla's Test average was 46.98; when he finished it, the average had climbed to 50.26. For the last few years Amla has played a brand of cricket that clearly proves he is among the top batsmen around today, but it was the unbeaten 311 that finally took his career average beyond the mark that has historically separated the great batsmen from the very good. Finally, in his 60th Test match, Amla's average breached the 50-mark. The way he has been batting over the last few years suggests it will stay there for a long time.
It's true that the significance of a 50-plus average has diminished over the last decade, thanks to the overall dominance that batsmen have enjoyed during this period: among the 32 batsmen who have scored 4000-plus runs at 50-plus averages, almost 50% have played a major chunk of their cricket in the 2000s. Given his immense batting talent, though, it feels right that Amla has breached the 50 mark; if anything, it would appear even more incongruous, in this era of batting dominance, if his average stays below 50. He clearly belongs in the elite club.
That Amla had to wait 60 Tests for his average to touch 50 is because he had to carry the burden of a poor start in international cricket: in his first 15 Tests, he averaged 25.50, with one century. (Click here for Amla's cumulative numbers in Tests.) Since then, he has been on a tear, averaging more than 60, with 14 hundreds in his last 45 Tests.
Another factor that has dampened Amla's overall numbers is the conditions in which he has played the majority of his cricket. South Africa has clearly been the most bowler-friendly country over the last few years: since the beginning of 2004, the batting average in South Africa is 30.07, the lowest among all countries; it's 39.60 in Pakistan, and 35.70 in India. In the 60 Tests that Amla has played, the overall batting average is 32.48; compare that with the numbers in the Tests that, say, Gautam Gambhir has played, and the difference becomes apparent: Gambhir's Test career has also spanned almost the same period, but in the 48 Tests that Gambhir has played in, the overall batting average is almost 10% higher, at 35.66. Add that factor to Amla's batting average, and it goes up from 50.26 to almost 55. (Though admittedly, India's poor bowling attack is also a reason why the averages are high in matches featuring Indians.)
Currently Amla averages 58.58 in away or neutral venues (up from 51.34 before the Oval Test) and 43.38 at home - a difference of 15.20. The numbers aren't dissimilar to those of two of his contemporaries, Graeme Smith and AB de Villiers. Smith averages 55.44 overseas and 44.64 at home (difference 10.80), while for de Villiers the corresponding numbers are 60.02 and 40.89 (difference 19.13).
|Period||Runs||Average||Strike rate||100s/ 50s|
|First 15 Tests||714||25.50||42.62||1/ 5|
|Last 45 Tests||4061||60.61||53.34||14/ 18|
|Career (60 Tests)||4775||50.26||51.41||15/ 23|
In the last four and a half years, Amla's form has been exceptional: in 42 Tests he has scored 12 centuries and averages more than 59. Among batsmen who have scored at least 2500 runs during this period, only three have a higher average. Four of the top eight spots are taken by South Africans, which is even more impressive when considering the fact that they generally play in more low-scoring games than other sides. (The last column in the table below lists the overall average in the Tests that the player played: for example, in the 42 Tests that Amla and de Villiers have played since the beginning of 2008, the overall batting average was 33.79; in the 45 Tests that Sachin Tendulkar played during this period, the overall average was 37.45.)
|Batsman||Tests||Runs||Average||100s/ 50s||Overall ave*|
|AB de Villiers||42||3384||62.66||10/ 16||33.79|
|Shivnarine Chanderpaul||38||2996||62.41||8/ 18||32.65|
|Thilan Samaraweera||36||3161||61.98||9/ 16||35.91|
|Hashim Amla||42||3733||59.25||12/ 18||33.79|
|Kumar Sangakkara||40||3840||57.31||14/ 15||35.98|
|Graeme Smith||41||3591||57.00||13/ 14||33.65|
|Sachin Tendulkar||45||4104||57.00||14/ 17||37.45|
|Jacques Kallis||41||3279||56.53||14/ 9||33.64|
The biggest plus for South Africa's batting line-up since Amla began his run spree is that they have an ideal No. 3 batsman, who can resurrect the innings after an early setback but can also dominate and consolidate after a good start. That's an especially big gain for South Africa, for they have traditionally struggled with the No. 3 spot in Test cricket. Till December 2007, South Africa's overall Test average at No. 3 was 33.39, worse than all teams except Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. Since the beginning of 2008, their No. 3 average of 57.85 is the best among all teams, thanks almost singlehandedly to Amla. During these four and a half years, Amla has scored so many runs at No. 3 that South Africa's overall average at that position has improved from 33.39 to 35.94, which pushes them just ahead of New Zealand in the all-time averages.
|Team||Till Dec'07-Inngs||Average||100s/ 50s||Jan'08 onwards-Inngs||Average||100s/ 50s||Overall ave||100s/ 50s|
|West Indies||763||46.36||99/ 134||77||40.17||8/ 15||45.79||107/ 149|
|Australia||1219||45.94||147/ 222||98||38.06||7/ 22||45.33||154/ 244|
|Sri Lanka||300||41.52||29/ 48||73||56.79||13/ 15||44.46||42/ 63|
|India||715||40.85||64/ 132||90||43.60||11/ 18||41.15||75/ 150|
|England||1521||38.45||138/ 259||95||42.09||11/ 12||38.66||149/ 271|
|Pakistan||578||36.13||42/ 87||64||44.32||5/ 16||36.96||47/ 103|
|South Africa||589||33.39||33/ 98||71||57.85||11/ 19||35.94||44/ 117|
|New Zealand||605||34.11||42/ 81||71||27.91||0/ 14||33.45||42/ 95|
|Zimbabwe||156||28.75||5/ 26||8||24.12||1/ 0||28.51||6/ 26|
|Bangladesh||97||28.73||3/ 21||47||27.61||1/ 9||28.37||4/ 30|
Amla is the first South African, and one of only seven batsmen, to score 4000-plus runs at No. 3 at a 50-plus average. Among those seven, his average is currently third-best, after Don Bradman and Kumar Sangakkara.
|Don Bradman||56||5078||103.63||20/ 10|
|Kumar Sangakkara||167||9206||59.77||29/ 37|
|Hashim Amla||87||4393||56.32||14/ 22|
|Ricky Ponting||196||9904||56.27||32/ 43|
|Rahul Dravid||219||10,524||52.88||28/ 50|
|Rohan Kanhai||90||4689||52.68||13/ 20|
|Ian Chappell||91||4279||50.94||13/ 22|
The big improvement in Amla's batting since 2008 has been his handling of right-arm fast bowlers. Before 2008, he averaged 26 against them. Among the bowlers who were particularly successful against him were Mohammad Asif (five dismissals for 60 runs, average 12) and Sreesanth (four dismissals for 22 runs, average 5.50).
However, since the beginning of 2008, Amla's average against right-arm fast bowlers has shot up to 60.50. Mitchell Johnson has dismissed him five times during this period, but Amla has averaged a respectable 40.20 against him. Against James Anderson, one of the best swing bowlers around, Amla averages 109 (218 runs in 380 deliveries, two dismissals); against Stuart Broad he averages 61.33. The other top bowlers haven't had much success against him either: Zaheer Khan has dismissed him once at the cost of 127 runs, while Graeme Swann has figures of 2 for 157. The one bowler who has impressive stats against him during this period is West Indies' offspinner Shane Shillingford: he has dismissed Amla three times at the cost of 42 runs. It's unlikely Amla will be losing too much sleep over that stat.
|Bowling type||Till Dec '07-Dismissals||Average||Runs per over||Jan '08 onwards-Dismissals||Average||Runs per over|
S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter