On Sunday, Hashim Amla notched up a significant milestone as he went past 58 en route to scoring his 12th ODI ton. It was through a shot straight out of the Amla handbook. A nudge to the fine-leg region for a single. One where he watched the ball right onto his bat and cocked his supple wrists at the last moment in characteristic fashion.
With that, the 30-year-old Protea had crossed the 4000-run mark in his 81st ODI inning, making him the fastest to get there. In the process, he had beaten the previous record-holder, a certain Viv Richards, by a significant margin of seven innings. While the landmark did receive a loud cheer from the Kingsmead crowd, there was hardly a reaction from Amla.
No elation, no delight, not even the customary lifting of the bat to acknowledge the appreciation. You could have pardoned him, for he was in that Zen-like zone that he always seems to be in with bat in hand.
Later in the day, though, he would reveal the reason for his impassiveness. As Amla in his studious avatar with the spectacles on admitted to having been embarrassed on setting a new mark, even his captain AB de Villiers, seated next to him, couldn’t suppress a raised eyebrow.
“Fortunately I have met Sir Viv on a few occasions,so it makes it even more embarrassing. It would be befitting if he was ahead. He is the original master blaster,” Amla said.
Amla was just being his usually humble and modest self. However, he wouldn’t have been the only one in the cricket world surprised by the remarkable feat that had just been notched up. In a strange way, his ODI career, as illustrious as it’s been, has never really gotten its due. Even while he has been routinely touted, and deservedly so, as one of the batting behemoths of the Test arena.
This despite the fact that Amlas numbers in 50-over cricket have been as startling as, if not more so, than those in the longer format.
For starters, his current average of 53.88 is only a shade lighter than where Richards was at the same stage of his ODI career. But while Amla has never really attracted any hyperbolic coinages for his batting exploits in the format, his strike-rate of 90.18 is three runs better than the former West Indian batting mainstay and the same as Richards overall strike-rate.
Unlike Richards, Amla does it without any swagger. Or for that matter,a disposition that gives you not even the slightest hint of him being a bully. The South African instead looks almost apologetic while dominating bowling attacks and running them ragged. Just like he does while talking about the pain he renders to the opposition.
Hes even left those in his dressing room flabbergasted with his rate of scoring. Skipper de Villiers had said prior to the first ODI that Amla scores at around a strike-rate of 100 without really having to try too hard. This coming from one of the most destructive bat-wielders in world cricket, one who can make tearing bowling attacks apart look like a walk in the park in his own inimitable style. The awe for Amla is universal.
While he did start off as a number three in ODIs, he’s really found his niche as an opener. And without ever being singled out as one of the more influential batsmen in ODI cricket, he has never averaged below 45 till the present year.
The main formula for Amla in ODI cricket has been his pacing of the innings,a key reason that has helped him flourish. Even against India so far,he has been keen on getting the innings going before accentuating his tempo in the middle overs. His ability to score runs at 360-degree angles has also played a role as it has meant Amla never gets bogged down during his stay at the crease. There is always a nudge to backward square-leg or a push into the covers with soft hands that allows him to break away.
Unlike in Tests, he’s slightly more uninhibited in the green and gold jersey or the pink one he donned at the Wanderers. In both matches so far, he’s not been bothered with outside and inside edges going for boundaries. Nor has he been reticent to make a room or walk in front of his stumps to manufacture shots on either side of the wicket.
The opposition takes Amla lightly at their own peril, even if he might not come across as a batting tyrant. He’s shown once again that he is as dangerous an adversary as there ever has been in ODI history. Only that the violence he renders seems more like poetry in motion.