South Africa cricket team batsman Hashim Amla flicks and scores a boundary during the first ODI vs England cricket team at last week. England sealed the series, winning the first two matches of the three-ODI competition which acts as a warm-up for both sides for the ICC Champions Trophy 2017(Getty Images)
Hashim Amla always carries himself with a certain amount of calm. The bespectacled South Africa cricket team opener exudes a studious aura. His composed demeanour at the crease gives the impression that his job is to remain glued to the crease for hours. And, because he is so technically correct and always stereotyped as a Test specialist, he is not spoken of in the same breath as players such AB de Villiers or Virat Kohli in the shorter formats.
Despite the fact that Hashim Amla averages in the fifties and has 24 centuries in ODIs, he still goes unnoticed, perhaps due to the ease at which he scores.
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But his recent exploits in the Indian Premier League (IPL), where Amla not only smashed two centuries but also kept his strike rate over 145, aggregating 420 runs in 10 innings for Kings XI Punjab, busted notions regarding his limited-over abilities.
Amla seems to have used the IPL and the ongoing series against England cricket team (where he scored 73 & 24 in the first two matches) to get himself into peak form for the ICC Champions Trophy 2017.
Amla’s transformation into a limited-overs force can be attributed to a few tweaks in his batting technique and change in approach — looking to unleash his attacking instinct. Now, Amla has emerged as a tricky equation to crack for the bowlers.
A year or so back, Amla struggled in the T20s. The absence of fancy strokes and over reliance on copy-book technique seemed to be the hindrance. Amla’s talent and potential was unquestionable — he just had to make that transformation — and with the kind of technique he possessed, it was just a matter of making a mental switch.
Throughout the IPL, Amla scored big and scored fast but never forsake his technique. He stood true to his technique and style, just like how Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson did, and still found huge success in T20.
“Kane Williamson and Virat have the quality to clear the ropes when needed but by and large through good cricketing shots,” Amla told HT during the IPL.
Deep in the Crease
Amla stuck to his “good shots” too, while making a slight tweak in the technique — a matter of using the 1.22m popping crease.
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In the IPL matches against Mumbai Indians and Gujarat Lions — where he scored centuries — Amla’s shots troubled the bowlers and looked pleasing to the eye as well. While Amla does go really back and across before the ball is delivered, he extended his trigger movement to a few inches deep into the crease. The front foot made sure it stayed on the leg side. And Amla kept a slightly open stance and for a reason too.
The wickets were so flat that swing was out of the equation. So, he didn’t have to worry about getting squared up. The second reason was that he knew he would have to tackle serious pace and only standing deep in the crease would give him the extra time to play his shots. Against Lasith Malinga, Amla hit him for a huge six over long on as Malinga’s perfect length gave him time to free his arms. Cementing his front foot on leg gave Amla the room and the time to swing.
Even if any ball was bowled in the corridor, Amla would further clear his leg and play the ball on the up on the off side. Similarly, if the bowler drifted onto the legs, Amla already used to be in a semi-open position and would only open his hip further following the line of the ball.
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Against spinners, his approach was equally effective. Planting his foot on leg meant that he could play an inside-out drive anytime the bowler pitched on middle. Anything outside off was a free hit. While Amla said that it was his skipper Glenn Maxwell’s backing that helped him express freely in the middle, he added that he also wanted to stick to the tried and tested.
“I think batting in the top 3 does allow the opportunity to play normal cricket shots and still get value as the field is up,” elaborated Amla. “Some of the grounds in India are small and field is quick. It allows you to set it up for the guys at the end who may not be as technically correct.”
Setting it right
Setting a foundation for the big hitters to go for it at the end is what Amla has been doing over the years for South Africa.
In ODIs, 22 of his 24 centuries have come in a winning cause. He averages over 65 in the 95 games in which SA have won. In the remaining 51 games, he averages under 29.
A few years ago, Amla had an average of 53 and at one point it was better than that of Virat Kohli. The India skipper too averages over 65 in winning causes and has scored 24 tons. From the numbers, it is evident that Amla’s contribution at the top has played a vital role in SA’s success.
Kohli’s role over the years has been of an anchor. He is usually busy setting up the game for India. Amla also plays a similar role. He averages 56 when batting first and 41 during chases.
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Come Champions Trophy, Amla would still be busy doing the anchoring role but this time things would be a tad different. He is armed with a a deadly ability to hit boundaries at will.
And Amla’s last two knocks against England show how it took him no time to adapt to the English conditions. As opposed to IPL, he made sure that he played close to the body, waited for the slightly spongy bounce and stayed side-on to tackle swing. In the later part of his innings, he used the long handle against Chris Woakes and Mark Wood during the matches.
Amla seems primed to make that kill and play a big role in helping South Africa win an ICC tournament and remove that chokers tag.
While AB de Villiers is the face of SA’s famous wins, going by recent form Amla’s would be the most sought after wicket for the opposition bowlers during the Champions Trophy. If Amla gives a solid start to South Africa, it sets up things for the power hitters in the squad — the likes of De Villiers, Faf du Plesis and David Miller.
So when India play South Africa in their group match at the ICC Champions Trophy, Kohli & Co would be ready with plans on how to crack the Amla code.