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Calm Amla grinds India

cricket Updated: Feb 08, 2010 01:16 IST
Kadambari Murali Wade
Kadambari Murali Wade
Hindustan Times
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This is what former South Africa coach Mickey Arthur said of Hashim Amla. “The thing about Hashim is that he is a calming influence on the other players. When they are around him, they seem to tone down (their over-the-top behaviour). They respect him, they respect what he brings to the Proteas.”

Given how Amla, a devout, disciplined, orthodox Muslim of Gujarati origin — his grandparents moved to South Africa from India — blends seamlessly into this hard-drinking, exuberant, living-life-in-the-fast-lane bunch of South Africans, you can see what Arthur meant.

Over 11 and a quarter hours at the VCA stadium, first in the company of Jacques Kallis —with whom he shared a second triple-century stand, their 340 was also the highest stand by South Africa against India — and then with AB de Villiers and Mark Boucher, Amla relentlessly wore down India.

Nothing fazed him, not Amit Mishra getting the ball to spin past the edge time and again, not the occasional one from Harbhajan that could not be padded away or played off the hip or leg, not the one from Ishant that seared off the pitch dangerously and forced him to sway dramatically out of the way, or the occasional edge that streaked past the slips.

He survived a couple of chances in the nervy 140s, first when Murali Vijay could not hold on to what should have been a regulation chance for short-leg and then when Dhoni was too slow for a glanced nick, but before and after, he anchored South Africa with calm control.

But that's just the way he is and because of it, the boy from Tongaat, the son of a doctor in what was otherwise a predominantly Indian settlement of sugarcane workers in KwaZulu-Natal, who managed to break the mould and go to Durban High School, the alma mater of players like Lance Klusener and Barry Richards, is now talked of seriously as a future Proteas captain.

And on pure merit: Not because his colour suits South Africa's controversial politics of transformation.

In this innings, it wasn't just his own batting on way to an unbeaten 253 — South Africa declared about 20 minutes before close at 558-6 with Amla 24 behind Graeme Smith's 277, the highest score by a South African — that was a lesson in adaptation, it was the way he adjusted to his various partners that was too.

On Saturday, he dropped anchor while Kallis dominated the Indians. On Sunday morning Kallis was subdued but Amla kept the scoreboard ticking. With de Villiers looking to rattle the spinners, Amla ran the smart singles. And with Boucher, he simply upped the ante.

“The gameplan was very much the same as yesterday. I was trying to keep it as simple as possible as we had a lot of time.”

On the face of it, they did. But given the way Sehwag and Gambhir raced to 25 off four overs in the 16 minutes they batted, South Africa will hope that they didn't take too much time. The Indian combine is the world's foremost opening pair. On song, on this wicket, they can make magic.