Runs are the least of what Hashim Amla has given South African cricket. The idea that someone from a culture so different from those usually represented in the national team can not only win his place in that team but become the fulcrum around which it turns is infinitely more important.
Amla is also unorthodox in his technique — essentially, he hits the ball where he shouldn’t, playing strokes he shouldn’t be able to play — and in his determination not to join the modern penchant for living a life that puts a low price on privacy.
But, for some, it’s the runs that matter most. And there have been many of them, most famously the 311 not out he made at the Oval in July 2012 — the first triple-century by a South African.
The son of a doctor, Amla was a batting prodigy at Durban High School, which also gave cricket Trevor Goddard, Lance Klusener, Barry Richards, Hugh Tayfield and Herbie Taylor. He captained South Africa to the semi-final of the 2002 under-19 World Cup, where they lost to Australia. Four centuries in eight innings at the start of the 2004-05 season earned him a place on South Africa’s tour to India, and he made his debut at Eden Gardens in November 2004.
He scored only 62 runs in his first six innings and was dropped. On his return 15 months later against New Zealand at Newlands in April 2006, he scored a breakthrough 149. Amla’s average first reached 40 in his 54th innings and has dipped below that mark only once. Indeed, it was above 50 for the 52 innings he had for four years from November 2012. But he has not topped 50 since November 2016 and is clearly in decline.
Initially considered a long-form specialist, Amla had 40 Test innings in more than three years before he played his first ODI. By November 2010, having scored six centuries in 34 innings, he was the top-ranked player in the format.
Amla has had a less successful career as a captain, resigning the position with his then franchise, the Durban-based Dolphins, and South Africa — both times, he said, to give his full focus to batting. The latter instance was in January 2016 after he had scored 201 in the first two of the four Tests South Africa played against England.
There is no question that Amla is in decline, and that his father’s serious illness — which has kept him away from the game for much of the past few weeks — has impacted on his preparation for the 2019 World Cup.
But he remains the best hope for stability in a South African batting order that has historically been short on that priceless commodity.