A moment frozen in time: 244-ball 25 vs India at Feroz Shah Kotla (2015)
It was knock that will be remembered for the runs Hashim Amla didn’t score. South Africa had already lost the four-Test series, and comprehensively so, by the time the last match began in Delhi. Amla and his teammates were playing to prove they were better than what the 2-0 scoreline suggested. A pride-salvaging win was ruled out when India set South Africa a target of 481 with over five sessions to bat on a fast deteriorating pitch. Against Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, securing a draw too was almost as difficult. Yet, with Amla leading the resistance, South Africa nearly achieved it.
As The Indian Express report from Day Four observed: “(Hashim Amla’s) epic innings distorted your sense of time and space. You felt one had expanded even as the other had contracted. Given an improbable 481-run target with over five sessions to bat, South Africa lost Dean Elgar before lunch to Ravichandran Ashwin. Amla and (Temba) Bavuma resumed on the other side of the break having removed the basic essence of cricket: runs. On Sunday, to quote Bavuma, they were batting time. The scoreboard became immaterial. Their focus was on rebuilding their battered reputation, block by block. “Overs after overs after overs, you saw Ashwin (and Ravindra Jadeja) trying to dismiss Amla, only for the bearded and bespectacled batsman to put the softly pat the ball dead. But with the scorecard barely ticking for long periods, it looked like one interminable delivery. A moment frozen in time.
“This illusion of temporal expansion happened due to a spatial contraction of the cricket field. With Amla looking only to defend, the ball very rarely crossed the centre square. At one stage, there were seven players, including the wicketkeeper, around the bat. It seemed as if the vast Kotla ground had shrunk itself into its rectangular core. Consequently, the over-rate shot up. In fact, four extra overs were bowled in the scheduled seven hours of play when a normal winter day in north India routinely falls five to six overs short…
“At the end of the day, though, South Africa walked back unscathed. Just for a day in this one-sided Test series, they showed they weren’t here to make up the numbers.”
In the end, a Jadeja jaffa ended Amla’s long vigil, and South Africa would end up with nothing to show for their monumental effort, which was unfairly dissed as blockathon by many. But it wasn’t just a block-fest. At times, it didn’t even feel like cricket. In a series named after Gandhi and Mandela, it seemed to be cricket’s version of the Civil Disobedience Movement. When one Protea would perish in the course of their epic struggle to save the Test, another equally determined batsman would come to replace him. It was a battle against the bowlers, the fourth-innings pitch, the crowd, time, but also against oneself.
At Oval, full circle: 311 not out vs England (2012)
To fast or not to fast was the only dilemma in Hashim Amla’s mind before the Oval Test in 2012. It was the Ramazan month, and as a devout Muslim, who once forced a beverage sponsor’s logo out of his jersey, he decided to fast, before he changed his mind. Too much was at stake. England were the No 1 Test side; they had just won a series in India; their bowling was devastatingly sharp and versatile, London had just endured a terrible heatwave, Aand so perhaps they didn’t want their best batsman to bat in exhaustion. Whatever the reasons be, it stood gloriously vindicated, as he batted for 13 hours to construct what turned out to be a series-defining knock, It was a knock so blemishless that his outside edge was beaten just once by the English metronome James Anderson—which came much after he had crossed the double-century mark. He was batting perfection wrapped in velvet—he commanded a control percentage of 87.
From the first to the 529th delivery, he batted smoothly and serenely, patiently and authoritatively, unbothered by the belligerence Jacques Kallis exhibited towards the latter stages of his innings or the brutality AB de Villiers unleashed throughout his own century, seldom tempted to shift through his batting gears, barely affected by the thrilling proximity of a milestone. All through, Amla was in a trance, a back-foot stylist rolling out deft flicks from those slick, powerful wrists, piercing the field with a combination of audacity and dexterity, demoralising than destroying the bowlers, his flossy beard sparkling in the London sun.There could have been more thrilling or gruelling triples, but not perhaps a more tranquil one.
For the entire duration of his crease-occupation, he hardly celebrated his milestones. Not even the triple hundred. A faint smile, a reluctant wave of the bat, a loose handshake with his partner, and he was back marking his guard. It’s the way he has always been—tranquil in triumph and poised in defeat.