Hashim Amla can be a mascot for the Rainbow Nation, an inspiration to the young Muslim in South Africa and a window to anyone seeking a better understanding of Islam. However, on Thursday, he had only one thing to offer: a lesson in batsmanship.
Two innings, two centuries, once out. For the series, add an unbeaten double hundred. The statistics did not lie, but dealt out half-truths. For they could not reveal how utterly improbable it seemed Amla would ever get out on the fifth day.
Against the spinners, he went right back or to the pitch of the ball and offered the full face of the bat held in soft hands. To score, he turned the ball to leg with those wonderful wrists or waited on the back foot for the really short deliveries. Against the pacer, he was behind the line of the ball and seldom beaten.
India’s plan was to keep Amla at the non-striker's end and attack the others. Late in the day, they were reduced to kicking the ball across the boundary line just to keep Amla off strike. That ploy failed as the umpires awarded four runs to Amla on top of the single he got but overall, the strategy worked.
If Amla was gutted by his efforts going in vain, he didn't show it. “It was emotional,” he admitted. “Me and (No. 11) Morne (Morkel), we were enjoying ourselves. I got a lot of confidence from the way he batted,” Amla said.
It was what one has come to expect from the 26-year-old called Hash by teammates, who keep praising him for the calmness he brings to the dressing room and in the middle.
From being perceived as a quota player to being dropped from the Test team, having his technique taken apart and being called a terrorist as a joke, Amla has seen quite a bit but never lost his head. He returned to the Test side by scoring 1156 runs in 13 matches in the 2005-06 domestic season. He has batted at Nos 3 and 4 since, scoring 3199 runs at 50.77.
“He is become our glue at No. 3. I don't think any of us have seen him play better,” said his captain Graeme Smith.