Welcome back‚ ‘Hash’ . . . where have you been?
It took a while and it came too late‚ but the real Hashim Amla finally stood up at the 2019 men’s Cricket World Cup on Friday.
His unbeaten 80 against Sri Lanka at the Riverside was his second half-century in seven innings at the tournament‚ following the 55 he made against New Zealand.
Unlike that stodgy effort‚ which took him 83 balls‚ Friday’s was the first time since Amla scored 50s in both of South Africa’s warm-up games that he has looked like the player who has anchored the innings for much of the past 11 years.
He faced 105 balls and hit only five fours at the Riverside‚ but he played with the timing and sureness of old.
The unbroken stand of 175 he shared with Faf du Plessis‚ who was 96 not out‚ earned South Africa victory — only their second in eight games — by nine wickets with 12.4 overs to spare.
Amla was‚ he would no doubt admit‚ dealt a good hand.
As they went into the match knowing they could no longer qualify for the semi-finals‚ there was no pressure on South Africa to perform.
And the Lankan attack harbours no-one of the ilk of England’s Jofra Archer‚ who hit Amla on the grille of his helmet in just the fourth over of South Africa’s first innings of the tournament.
That put the stalwart out of the match against Bangladesh — which South Africa lost‚ a massive blow to their confidence from which they never recovered.
So the stars aligned for Amla on Friday.
Still‚ he needed to connect the dots to make the most of the opportunity.
The Lankans stumbled to a total of 203.
As Amla said‚ “When you are chasing a score of 200‚ there’s no real rush.”
He seemed in no real rush to bat on after he was given out lbw to Jeevan Mendis in the 31st over‚ when South Africa were 38 runs away from winning.
“I was happy to go and Faf said‚ ‘There’s only 30-odd runs to get. Why don’t you just review’.
“On the first replay‚ I thought it looked pretty close.
“That’s when I thought I would save myself the time of waiting and just walk off.”
Amla had almost reached the boundary by the time the ball was adjudged to have pitched outside the line of his leg stump‚ and he returned to the crease.
At 36 and with his best years on the field behind him‚ how close was he to crossing the boundary of his career?
What does the future hold for him?
“The next game [against Australia at Old Trafford next Saturday] and then‚ once the World Cup is done‚ get home and chill with the family.”
Did he have another World Cup in him? Imran Tahir is the oldest player at this World Cup at 40 — the age Amla will be when the next edition of the tournament is played in India in 2023 - so it can be done.
“Another World Cup? I don’t know. It’s a long way away. Four years … it’s a long way.”
Everything about Amla’s career seems to have involved lengthy journeys‚ from the path a devout muslim would have to take to establish himself in the bunch of beery boykies South Africa’s team was when he made his debut in 2004 — Graeme Smith‚ Andrew Hall‚ Jacques Kallis‚ et al — to the fetching of his backlift from a point way outside the orthodox‚ as proclaimed by the coaching curmudgeons.
But he has walked every step of the way with integrity and class. His next moves will be keenly followed by all his families: the Amlas‚ who are entitled to want their son‚ brother‚ husband and father back after lending him to the national interest all these years‚ and by his adopted siblings in the dressingroom.
And‚ of course‚ by his family in the stands and in front of their televisions.
Hashim Amla‚ to many South Africans the epitome of the utter outsider‚ has become one of us so completely that it’s difficult to imagine a future without him.
So‚ welcome back‚ ‘Hash’. Where’ve you been?