In 2004, he came to India with a back lift that betrayed the sport he played and footwork that looked like complex dance steps. Manoeuvering the cricket bat like a golf club, he managed to score 24 and 2 in his first two innings. This lukewarm start notwithstanding, he didn't lose his calm demeanor that defines him even today. After hitting the big league of batting, he still had the poise to refuse to endorse a liquor brand through his playing gear. Over the years, elegance in cricket has become synonymous with his name - Hashim Amla.
Eight years after his not-so-pretty golf swing back lift; his head is still and the dance steps are now just a regular one-two. The first South African to score 300 is the most recent epithet used for Amla. En route to his 311 against England in the recently concluded test match, he exhibited some shots that belonged in a museum to be preserved for generations to see. The back foot punches had the commentators amazed. His wristy flicks dashed bowlers' hopes of trapping him leg before. Perhaps a bit ignorant of his expertise on the leg side, they felt his shuffle across the stumps was a weakness. Little did they know, they were bowling right to the middle of his bat.
Amla has always looked like he has a definite plan while batting. Against Graeme Swann in the said test, he took an off stump guard and playing on the back foot, made one of the most effective English spinners seem helpless. Never afraid to step out and meet the ball on the full, Amla joins a select set of batsmen with balanced aggro and defence.
His contemporary and probable doppelganger, another graceful batsman Mohammad Yousuf once said Swann was the toughest bowler to score against thanks to his flight and drift. Not surprisingly, Yousuf's attempts to come down the track often ended in panic-stricken prods. Amla, however, was his composed self even if he didn't manage to score too much off Swann.
While playing the ball late allows him to adjust for any movement, his wrists supply the force behind the ball. The follow through is not a la India's Azharuddin, but a slightly more mellow version akin to Amla's nature.
Interestingly, the Protean middle-order batsman made his ODI debut four years after his test debut. He was touted as a 'one-dimensional' cricketer - a batsman in the 'Dravid' mould but like Dravid did, he has proven to be indispensible to the team's batting order regardless of format. Come the World T20 this September, and South Africa's feisty opening stands would depend on him.
There is no second opinion that one's batting style says much about the player's persona. Calm and humble are only two adjectives that come to mind for Amla.
His colleague Jacques Kallis who has been the mainstay for the SA batting line-up for the past many years can now rest easy while reaching the twilight of his career. His throne, at least in the batting department, has found a worthy successor - Hashim Amla.
Pic credit: ESPNCricinfo