Amla, powering the S African juggernaut

Stylist looks to avoid Kingsmead jinx

Amla, powering the S African juggernaut

leader in making: South Africa’s Hashim Amla has achieved the rare double of thousand runs in a calendar year in ODIs and Tests in 2010, signalling his supreme touch. AFP

His sparkling 140 in Centurion the other day was Amla’s 12th Test century; five of them have come against India, and four in the last three matches alone! His last four innings against Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s team have all been in excess of hundred, netting him 630 runs at a staggering average of 315.

This has been a year of plenty for the bearded 27-year-old, who six years back became the first cricketer of south Asian origin to represent South Africa. It took the soft-spoken, religious young man a while to make an impact, but 2010 has seen him scale unprecedented heights.

The stylish right-hander has touched a thousand runs this calendar year in both Tests and one-day internationals, the first ever to do so. His appetite for runs has been insatiable; on flat tracks and spiced-up ones, against fiery attacks and modest line-ups, Amla has carried on inexorably, softly killing the opposition with a little nick here, a little cut there.

The second Test, which gets under way in Kingsmead on Sunday, will be Amla’s 50th. It’s perhaps in the fitness of things that that mini-milestone should come in the city of his birth, in front of family and friends, and against a team that must rank as his favourite opposition. Typically, Amla will approach the match with little fanfare, though from his perspective, there is a record to set right. Kingsmead has given the local lad little joy. His first four innings here yielded just two runs. Precious little has gone right since, too. In five Tests and nine innings at a ground he should know better than most people, Amla has made just 133 at under 15, a solitary half-century dwarfed by seven single-digit scores.

Apart from the fact that they both bat at number three, that’s one thing Amla has in common with Rahul Dravid. The former India skipper doesn’t have as bad a record at the Chinnaswamy stadium as Amla does here, but Dravid hasn’t made a Test century at his home ground either.

Amla’s batting might be more Laxman in that he is all wrists and sublime timing, but it’s Dravid’s mind that fascinates the man from Durban. When he first travelled to India in 2004, Amla was keen to seek Dravid out and talk cricket. Whatever the Bangalorean told him has definitely worked, even if it has been much to India’s detriment! There is no discernible weakness about the focussed Amla’s batting. Chirps and sledges make absolutely no impact, and it is a reflection of the realisation of the futility of having a go at him that opposition teams seldom resort to verbal warfare against Amla.

At number three, he provides the solidity and stability that emboldens the stroke-makers around him, but he is no plodder himself. With wristy twirls and precise placement, he is as capable of scoring briskly as he is at battening down the hatches and dead-batting for survival, like he so famously almost managed at the Eden Gardens in February.

In many ways, Amla stands as the rock that prevents the opposition from having an early go at the middle-order. The aggression openers Graeme Smith and Alviro Petersen are naturally equipped means Amla must always be mentally prepared to come in early. Once there, he blunts the bowling largely through studious, impeccable defence and, occasionally, through elegant strokeplay, therefore allowing the likes of Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers to come and do their bidding.

His towering presence at number three in a career still in its nascent stages is one of the main reasons behind South Africa’s emergence as a strong, solid, unshakeable batting unit. The sniggers that accompanied his elevation to the senior ranks – he has led the Proteas at the under-19 World Cup – have since given way to admiration and respect earned not by chest-beating and screaming from the rooftops but through the mountain of runs that has become his calling card.

During one memorable burst late on the first evening in Kolkata earlier this year, Zaheer Khan exposed a minor chink in the Amla armour against the well-directed short ball. The left-arm quick must replicate those heroics for India to silence their nemesis because otherwise, Amla will punish them like he has done so often in the recent past.

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