Hashim Amla’s retirement from cricket has ended one of the most glorious careers in cricketing history. The ‘Mighty Hash’, or the ‘Silent Assassin’ (so named by the great West Indian fast bowler, Michael Holding), has been an enigma ever since his entry onto the national and international cricket stage. What an enigma it really was, leaving behind a story the best scriptwriters could not have envisaged, writes SEDICK CROMBIE.
We still clearly remember the background against which you came into the Proteas team, and it feels like yesterday. It was a period when players of a darker hue were scrutinised with a magnifying glass whenever and wherever they dared to be selected for the South African national teams. The last days of Herschelle Gibbs and Ashwell Prince’s careers were on the horizon. These two batsmen, together with Alviro Petersen’s careers were nearing their sunsets. Besides Herschelle, players such as Ashwell and Alviro were in and out of the team and regarded as yo-yo men until they could no longer be marginalised due to their avalanche of runs. The scouts were thus really out to find players of colour that would fill the shoes of these players.
The hapless Justin Ontong, despite his undoubted talents and skills had to bear the pressures of an unscrupulous press and critics at his inclusion. At such a tender age, the young man really felt the brunt and it broke his spirit as he became embroiled in a damning fight between the convener of selectors, players, media, opponents and supporters. No youngster would be immune, let alone be able to withstand such pressure, especially on an international stage. Enter Hashim Amla.
Your appearance on the international scene was considered an oddity, something different; from the way you executed your cricketing shots, your mannerism on and off the field, your obscure nature to the lure of the limelight, spotlight and cameras, your acceptance when you were given out, your walking away from the crease even before the umpire could raise or not raise his finger, your total lack of animosity towards anybody or anything, your quiet and unobtrusive nature. The latter element of unobtrusiveness eventually became your hallmark on the global stage as all across the world, people became intrigued by this characteristic of your personality.
If memory serves us correctly, you came onto the stage amid a rapid flow of severe criticism of your playing style, the backlift of your bat, the unorthodoxy of playing a ball bowled on the off side to the mid-wicket or legside boundary. Those who considered themselves pundits of the game, media hacks and every couch potato had a field day at your entry into international cricket.
I vividly recall sitting in front of the television set hoping with crossed fingers that you would utilise the opportunity presented and be successful at being selected in the Proteas team. Alas, it was not to be and when your playing style was later evaluated by a former Eastern Province administrator who commented that you were totally inept at playing at this level and he cautioned with words to the effect, ‘The poor man should never have been considered at this level, he is not suited.’
We cringed and knew this ‘analyst’ was one of those coteries of closet South Africans who still harked back to the days of ensuring sports remain segregated. This was to be one of the first instances where we should have gained a real understanding of who Hashim Amla really was. While we seethed with anger at such injudicious comments from these quarters and which are usually reserved for players of colour, you just went off quietly. We shouted and screamed and wanted to climb up against the walls. This was not the first time that these incidents occurred; it happened to Herschelle, it happened to Ashwell, Alviro and also Justin. We seethed with anger. You said nothing.
I believe it was two years thereafter that you came back into the Proteas Test side. We once again crossed our fingers and watched with one eye on the television screen, saddened by your previous international cricketing career-curtailing exploits. We were possibly more nervous when you took the crease but you seemed so unperturbed, so calm, so serene and it rubbed off on us. You then started to play this game with such aplomb, like someone to the manner born, and the more successful you became the more ecstatic we became. The storms you weathered – such as the one when a former Australian player tried to be a wisecrack, but in effect only showed his ignorance by calling you a terrorist. We were once again livid and called for a lynching posse but you, once again, simply forgave him without any shred of hostility.
We felt you would have been within your rights as a victim and could have made more than enough mileage out of the insensitive and vicious personal slight against you and your religion. We were once again dumbfounded and astonished and only now in hindsight realise the magnanimity of that simple gesture of forgiveness, a hallmark of your existence.
You lived life without any malice and the respect you gained in this, without seeking any sympathies, was a bridge quite far for many of us. You always remained unruffled even in the face of severe provocation and sledging from aggressive opponents, and through this cowered them into submission and genuine respect for you. Who can forget the little pat on your back, from David Warner, when you scored a century against a rampant Australian side and in doing so thwarted them from a Test victory.
You gave new meaning to the phrase ‘not batting an eyelid’ when you took to the crease. You bewildered and left us in awe with your deft flicks of the wrists, your immaculate cover drives, your glances, playing the spinners, an Achilles heel of South African batsmen, with such aplomb that you began to confuse them on how to actually bowl to you.
They say respect is not given but earned, and despite your immense playing abilities, captivated many with the way you exemplified and personified yourself in your mannerism and character, on and off the field of play.
Your records and hours of pleasure you gave, your batting records in Test and one-day cricket have been exclaimed by analysts and pundits, and will stand the test of time. We can continue to lament, record and exclaim your achievements ad nauseum but it is in the virtues you have displayed through your actions, which have struck a chord. We also know that the type of person that you are, you would not wish to have such platitudes bestowed upon you but we would fail in our duty and common humanity if we do not show gratitude to you.
Hashim, your career was different: it was like no other before you, it was one fraught with intense scrutiny for daring to be yourself, for not following the usual path treaded by so many of your contemporaries. It was also for wearing your heart on your sleeve in the way you best knew, and above all, donning a long beard. They say some players are talented, some have immense potential, some good, some are great and some have greatness bestowed upon them. We know where you are, for you have taken on a special place (in our hearts), one which we rever and carry in the most treasured of places for what you have meant to us. Go well, Legend…
Thank you, Enkosi, Dankie, Shukran, Terimha kassie O Bearded One.