Hashim Amla would walk into any current Test and ODI World XI teams, but T20 is a totally different ball game, or so goes the saying. A batsman who pleases the cricketing purists with his textbook batting in a world of pyrotechnics, the South African was always touted to be a Test match cricketer.
When he arrived on the international scene, his odd way of bringing the bat down from a gully area attracted attention. It was an odd technique for a batsman who prides on playing the old school way. He was expected to struggle against international quality bowlers, but Amla had worked out a way for himself and it worked like a miracle.
His technique remained the same all through the years and he built his gameplay around it. Very few expected Amla to succeed in ODI cricket given the manner in which he liked to play the ball along the ground. He was no six-hitter or aggressor and he knew it all too well.
But that did not deter him from scoring 7,186 runs in 156 ODIs at an average of 50.25. His 25 hundreds have come at an astonishing rate that leaves even the prolific Virat Kohli behind. The South African's strike rate of 89.05 is also amazing for a player who prefers to take very few risks.
When T20 Internationals came along, teams went for the aggressive Shahid Afridi-like cricketers. Amla was definitely not one among them and failed to break into the South African T20 squads on a regular basis until 2012.
But his numbers in T20 cricket today have gone way beyond expectations. In 40 T20Is, Amla has 1,168 runs at 34.35 — a pretty good T20 average. Even his strike rate of 130.35 is comparable to some of the best T20 batsmen in the world.
There were innumerable stats thrown around when Amla wasn't picked by a single IPL team in the initial auctions for the 2017 season. People compared AB de Villiers’ mediocre T20I record to Amla's stunning numbers and called for his inclusion.
When Kings XI Punjab eventually enlisted him, Amla stamped his authority on the shortest format of the game. He played 10 games in the season, scoring 420 runs at an average of 60.00 including two back-to-back hundreds and a score in the nineties. In a team that boasted T20 greats like Glenn Maxwell, David Miller, Shaun Marsh, Martin Guptill and Eoin Morgan, Amla remained the batting pillar. Kings XI’s season faded off after Amla departed midway through the season, thereby underlining his effectiveness in the shortest format.
A majority of the comparisons thrown around during the IPL were between Amla and de Villiers. It is quite well known that the 360° man, de Villiers, does not have an eye-catching T20I record, despite it being a format tailor-made for him. Hence the comparisons aren't totally dependable. However, Amla's greatness in the format is evident if you compare him with T20 giants like Yuvraj Singh and Kevin Pietersen.
Both of them sit above Amla in terms of runs scored but only by a margin that Amla should cruise past in the next two days in Pakistan. Even his average and strike rate go pretty well when matched against these T20 stalwarts.
Take this record down to T20 games after the 2015 ODI World Cup, and Amla's numbers soar. He is the 12th highest run-getter in the format since April 2015, scoring 568 runs in 14 matches at an average of 56.80 and a strike rate nearly touching 140.
His average during this period is bettered by only one batsman — Virat Kohli — and his strike rate is better than Jason Roy, Tamim Iqbal, Joe Root, Shikhar Dhawan and Suresh Raina to name a few.
The thing about Amla is that he doesn't need to take any aerial risks. The South African opener is a surgeon when it comes to piercing gaps, which makes him a marauder in the powerplay overs. He is an exquisite timer of the ball and relies on his fast hands to compensate for the extra time his bat takes to come down at an angle. His six-hitting abilities have also improved over the years.
In IPL 2017, Amla smashed 17 sixes and 40 fours. He was the 11th highest six-hitter, a feat quite phenomenal for a player who mostly relies on shots along the turf. He had hit just 10 sixes in his T20 International career until 2016, but has since smashed 15 in two years, further testimony to his ever-improving skills in this format.
When he was named in the World XI T20 side to take on Pakistan in Pakistan, very few were surprised. Even fewer expressed astonishment when he slammed 72 from 55 balls to help the World XI chase down 175 against Pakistan in the second T20 of the series.
Amla is no longer an underrated T20 player. In fact, he has pioneered a movement that has seen more textbook-style batsmen make their presence felt in the shortest format of the game.