Hashim Amla retires: An enigmatic contradiction, South African icon departs leaving massive void in his wake

Of all the massive holes that have been hammered through South Africa's team in the past few years, none is as big as that left by Hashim Amla.

Telford Vice, Aug 09, 2019 09:06:06 IST

A car slowed and then stopped along Durban's beachfront. One pair of eyes recognised another, a door opened, a passenger plopped aboard, the door was closed, and they were off: a believer and an agnostic, to the mosque.

It's around 15 years ago now that Hashim Amla welcomed this reporter into the world they share in distinctly separate compartments, despite the fact that they are from the same country and are involved in the same industry. The experience was unforgettable — not because of Amla's presence, which was helpful and kind, but because the peace of that place and the people there has settled into even an agnostic's soul.

Much has changed in the ensuing years, and much hasn't. Like Amla's backlift. It's still pretty much where it was when commentators decided you couldn't possibly have a successful career if you picked your bat up towards gully. All that's changed is that the commentators don't talk about it anymore. And that Amla has had one of the most successful careers the game has seen. Maybe picking up his bat towards gully was the secret. Maybe everyone should.

Hashim Amla retires: An enigmatic contradiction, South African icon departs leaving massive void in his wake

Of all the massive holes that have been hammered through South Africa's cricket team over the years, none is as big as that left by Hashim Amla. Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

Amla's backlift isn't the only crooked thing about his game. The annals say he has bowled 393 deliveries in first-class cricket. The annals lie: Amla has chucked 393 deliveries in first-class cricket. His arm is as bent as an undone paperclip until the instant of delivery, when it miraculously flattens. Parthiv Patel, Amla's only wicket, should sue to set the record straight.

Captaincy isn't Amla's thing, probably because he is too sensitive to the feelings and fears of his teammates. He tried it, realised his error and did the right thing by relinquishing the reins early enough in the piece for the misstep to not be used against him. You need at least a little nastiness to front a cricket team properly. Amla has none.

Too often attempts at appreciating a player dissolve into a code of numbers parroted in a fashion meant to impress. In Amla's case, that's difficult to avoid: 311 not out, 9,282 Test runs at 46.64, fastest to 2,000, 3,000, 4,000, 5,000, 6,000 and 7,000; that sort of thing.

None of which tells you what the player is like. We don't need to know how good they are because we can decide that for ourselves, and if we can't decide we can delve into those annals, fallible though they are.

So, what's Amla like? Polite, deferent, modest, impeccably mannered. So far, so predictable. He's also a better talker with the bat than he is at press conferences, where he says only what he thinks he should and makes jokes that are as lame as a long-dead donkey.

He is older than his years, a nephew with an uncle's outlook. He can't wait, you suspect, to be a grandfather. Unusually for a modern cricketer, he reads serious books about spirituality and leadership. He laughs a lot, and easily.

We all know he is creaky in the field, where he reminds some of us what George Bernard Shaw might have looked like not quite gambolling about the field had he taken to cricket. Shaw, sensible man, preferred boxing, and wrote, "Cricket is a game played by 11 fools and watched by 11,000 fools." Has Amla read Shaw? He should if only for the chuckle he would have.

Who might such a man befriend in South Africa's dressing room? Surely not Dale Steyn, the tattooed rock star fast bowler given to hunting down a burger and fries — and perchance a milkshake — long after all God-fearing folk have blown out the candles? Or Quinton de Kock, the dozy savant who pops up on social media talking to random antelope? And yet they share a deep bond with Amla that goes far beyond what happens on the field or even in the dressing room.

That's what Amla is like: an enigmatic contradiction who, happily for the teams he plays for, is also a champion with the bat. And the eye of calm in South Africa's often stormy reality, where politics and ego are just other challenges to be faced, like swing and seam, and dangerously inept administrators do not fear to tread on comparative angels' heads.

Now all that Amla, and immeasurably more, has gone. He has retired as an international player, taking his dodgy bowling action, his stodgy fielding, his flaccid captaincy, his unfunny jokes, his runs, his seriousness, his laughability, his inner and outer equilibrium, his unshakeable composure, his intelligence, his shining example, his unimpeachable integrity, with him. He leaves us, as he said in his statement on Thursday, "love and peace". And he means it. You know he does. Because that's what he's like.

Of all the massive holes that have been hammered through South Africa's team in the past few years — the going of Mark Boucher, Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith, AB de Villiers, Morné Morkel, JP Duminy, Imran Tahir and, on Monday, in Test terms, at least, Steyn — none is as big as that left by Amla.

But, if we miss him, and we will, none will be so easy to find. He's coming soon to a mosque near you.

Updated Date: Aug 09, 2019 09:06:06 IST

Rank Team Points Rating
1 India 4027 115
2 New Zealand 2829 109
3 South Africa 2917 108
4 England 3778 105
5 Australia 2640 98
6 Sri Lanka 3795 95
Rank Team Points Rating
1 England 6745 125
2 India 7071 122
3 New Zealand 4837 112
4 Australia 5543 111
5 South Africa 5193 110
6 Pakistan 4756 97
Rank Team Points Rating
1 Pakistan 7365 283
2 England 4253 266
3 South Africa 4196 262
4 India 8099 261
5 Australia 5471 261
6 New Zealand 4784 252