Hashim Amla’s supreme innings, etched with elegance and equanimity, was a movable feast for the eyes of the Test cricket lover. Arunabha Sengupta uncovers further curious delights for the true addict of the game that passed almost unnoticed during his marathon knock.
Aesthetic and statistical delight
Hashim Amla’s epic innings was a delight for the Test match lover. A study in patience and application – graceful and classy while forsaking flourishes and forays into chance. There was no excitement manufactured at the expense of theory and technique, yet it was touched by elegance and aesthetics, as logical extensions of the purity and perfection of the art and science of batting. A tale scripted within the covers of the copybook that, nevertheless, will go down as a heroic saga of poise, panache and permanence. No wonder even in the days when cricketing action is squeezed into three-hour packets of fireworks, the sublime spread of serenity was watched for over 13 hours by a packed Oval crowd.
For the statistically-minded aficionados of the longest and purest form of the game, it was a moving feast all the way. Amla remained unbeaten with 311, becoming the first triple centurion for South Africa in Tests. It was also the first three hundred in England-South Africa Test matches that have seen 142 encounters across 123 years.
When Graeme Smith decided to declare the innings, Amla had been out there for 793 minutes, which is the fifth-longest knock in Tests – and pipped Brian Lara’s 400 by 12 minutes to become the longest unbeaten innings ever. There was also the rarest feat of back-to-back double and a triple century partnerships.
300 bearing the burden of a beard
Yet, Test match lovers are a bizarre lot – which somewhat explains their faithful allegiance to a sport that is played over five days in an era of 140 character attention span. There are amongst these addicts, curious connoisseurs who delight in facts and figures which sail harmlessly beyond the ken and imagination of normal beings.
And one such mingling of motley enthusiasts soon uncovered an achievement of singular proportions Amla himself is almost certainly not aware of. It turns out that the South African is the first batsman to get to a triple century bearing the burden of a beard!
Three hundreds did not enter the record books in the early days of Test cricket when facial hair was plentiful and the most famous beard in the history of the game went out to toss with a moustache of almost equal distinction. WG Grace amassed a highest score of 170 in Test cricket and Billy Murdoch 211. Given the atrocious wickets they had to bat on, the value of those runs perhaps go way beyond a modern triple hundred. But the landmark was first crossed by Andy Sandham of Australia in 1930, against the West Indies, at the age of 39 and with not a hair on his chin.
Since then, the milestone has been reached by men who either perennially put their Gillettes to excellent use, or managed to play their best innings in brief beardless patches of their careers.
Don Bradman, Wally Hammond, Len Hutton, Hanif Mohammad, Bobby Simpson, John Edrich, Lawrence Rowe, Sanath Jayasuriya, Mark Taylor, Matthew Hayden, Virender Sehwag, Mahela Jayawardene, Younis Khan and Michael Clarke were as prolific with the blades of their razor as with those of their willows. Not even one moustache appeared between all these master batsmen across eras and generations, standing amidst mountains of runs.
Hairbreadth misses by West Indian greats
Garfield Sobers did sport a trimmed growth of fungus under his nose once he had established himself as the best cricketer of the world, but his 365 not out, scored when he was just 21, came under a glistening chin and lots of free space above the upper lip.
His two fellow West Indian triple centurions followed suit. Brian Lara, who sometimes grew a moustache and very occasionally a smallish beard, was clean shaven when he scored 375 in April, 1994. And when he reclaimed his record, 10 years later at the same Antigua Recreation Ground, he had shaved off the hair on his head as well for good measure. Chris Gayle, not averse to enhancing his frightening presence for the bowlers with a beard, was likewise shorn of facial hair during his 317 at Antigua and 333 at Galle.
Second most famous beard in cricket?
Even Inzamam-ul-Haq, whose largely unkempt outgrowth uniquely defined him as much as his girth, grandeur, and goof-ups while running between the wickets, worked on that hairy aspect of his character well after his 329 against New Zealand.
The closest runner-up to Amla in this category is Graham Gooch, who had a coarse carpet of a few days’ worth of vegetation on his chin and cheeks when he scored 333 at Lord’s in 1990. However, considering the quantity, expanse and thickness donned by Amla, this apology of an effort by the Englishman can be waved aside as glorified stubble.
The pictorial records conclusively demonstrate that the South African is the first batsman to cross 300 while burdened with a beard, especially a flowing one. And with 4,775 runs at an average of over 50, Amla shows definite signs of surging ahead of the likes of Saeed Anwar, Saqlain Mushtaq and Mohammad Yousuf to emerge as the most famous beard since WG Grace.
(Arunabha Sengupta is trained from Indian Statistical Institute as a Statistician. He works as a Process Consultant, but purifies the soul through writing and cricket, often mixing the two into a cleansing cocktail. The author of three novels, he currently resides in the incredibly beautiful, but sadly cricket-ignorant, country of Switzerland. You can know more about him from his author site, his cricket blogs and by following him on Twitter)