Bengaluru, April 19: All speculation was put to rest on Thursday (April 18) as veteran batsman Hashim Amla made his way back into the South African national team for the ICC World Cup kicking off on May 30.
The 36-year-old, who has been one of the Proteas’ most prolific scorers with over 18,000 international runs in a span of nearly 15 years, has not been in a form expected of him of late. He missed the recent ODI series against Sri Lanka at home after a poor show in the Tests, also partially because of his father’s illness.
No batsman is beyond the ruthless truth of the sporting world: ageing. Questions about durability and hunger for runs are something that all of them, no matter how big they are, face at some point of their respective careers. It is the result-driven nature of sport which keeps it so engrossed in the present and future that all the past great work and historic feats lose their utility gradually, leaving the achievers vulnerable.
The first player of Indian descent to play for South Africa, Amla is not a viewer and hence television-friendly batsman, like say his compatriot AB de Villiers. Not poetry but hard prose of building the innings brick by brick doesn’t make people like Amla a treat to the eyes but their effectiveness is far more than many of the flashy but short-lived stroke players out there.
It becomes doubly difficult for players like Amla when form ditches them since that’s the only thing that helps them survive the distance. The last of Amla’s 28 centuries in Tests came almost a year ago in Bleomfontein. In the ODIs, though he had comparatively a decent series against Pakistan, yet his ordinary show for the Cape Cobras in a domestic T20 tournament put his return to the national side under uncertainty.
The slump in Amla’s form was more disappointing since he has cemented his place as one of South Africa’s modern-day greats, in the leagues of AB de Villiers, Jacques Kallis and Gary Kirsten. And that piled on the pressure on him to hit form, especially ahead of the World Cup and with no ABD around as he has already quit international cricket.
Amla’s eventual return to the WC squad (it will be his third) is a celebration of pedigree. The side has a bumper-to-bumper traffic in its batting and it was not easy for an out-of-form Amla to make a place. But he still pipped competitor Reeza Hendricks who failed to impress in the ODIs as South Africa picked a number of players who will be playing in their final WC and give that vigorous push to gain the country’s first title.
Amla’s story could be a repetition of that of Sachin Tendulkar prior to the 2011 World Cup that India won. At 37 and after over two decades of cricket, the Indian batting maestro was a tired-out soul but he didn’t play exhausting ODI cricket in 2010 but only more Tests. That kept him fresh for his final WC and he did well in that tournament, picking up two hundreds, and eventually ended up in the champions’ squad.