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I am going to make a big call and say Hash [Hashim Amla] is probably going to be the last guy that plays 100 Tests for South Africa because of the way that the game is changing, said Faf du Plessis on the eve of Hashim Amla s 100th Test.

Which game? Has Amla s brilliance made Faf say this? Or was his talking about the dreaded Kolpak and the colour -reference?

Before the minds could play further evil tricks, du Plessis immediately mentioned that Quinton de Kock and Kagiso Rabada are candidates, adding that it s a long way into future.

FULL CRICKET SCORECARD: South Africa vs Sri Lanka 3rd Test at Johannesburg

The other ugly side marred South Africa s victory at Cape Town that marked the series win. In times like these, cricket lovers wished if the South African bigwigs were colour-blind.

But this is about Hashim Amla, in all probability, the last South African in years who will have the 100th Test.

North Harbour Stadium, Auckland, January 2002. Amla, beardless, still 18, had invited India, his country of origin, to bat. His counterpart Parthiv Patel was still 16 and looked an oversized toddler.

South Africa Under-19 bowlers had got some bounce from the greenish surface at Albany. Manvinder Bisla had departed for 2; Paul Valthathy, for 10; and Parthiv, for a 12-ball duck. Chandan Madan s century had helped India to 227 before South Africa were cleaned up for 156. Amla had got an 8-ball nought.

It was time to return favours.

The sides clashed again in the semi-final. Amla struck a breezy 62. South Africa scored 268 and managed to skittle out India for 156.

Amla s South Africa later finished runners-up as Cameron White-led Australia lifted the trophy.

Beyond the melanin levels, the purists saw skills and a leader in this boy.

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Hashim Amla during his Under-19 days Getty Images

Amla did more. He became a role model, not only for a minority in a nation but also for many in the world. He went on to redefine notions. He used his skills optimally. He led. He did more than expected from the young boy, to further raise the bar of expectations.

When he walks out to The Wanderers on Thursday, he will reflect on the journey, not so kind but fulfilling.

***

Ahead of the India tour in 2004, Amla s First-Class average had propelled to over 50.

He had been batting in the lower middle-order against a visiting New Zealand A side. He had still managed 2 hundreds from 3 First-Class games.

Amla was leading the Dolphins at this point. The Amlas (Hashim and his older brother Ahmed) were prominent members for the side. Batting up the order, Hashim struck another hundred against Western Province Boland. The rich form was rewarded with the green national cap.

Eden Gardens, Kolkata, the ground that would later witness Amla at his finest, saw him debuting close to three years later.

It was not the happiest of starts. Amla set feet on the international scenario with 24, 2, 1, 0, 25 and 10. His average was barely past the 10-mark.

There were veiled sympathies for Amla. Little did they know that the boy they were dismissing as another coloured quota player would lead the nation one day.

The verdict was that he would not have survived with that technique. Here was another temporary product of the quota system perishing its usual way.

Amla had a quiet first season before disappearing into oblivion. Or, did he? The critics disappeared for sure, for they would have to hide themselves for rest of Amla s career.

Amla, calm, tolerant and receptive, continued to plunder runs in the SuperSport Series. Dolphins benefitted from his form. 2004-05 saw him score at over 54. The following season he scored at almost 56.

A Test recall followed, as did a finely struck 149 against the visiting New Zealanders.

The kind Indians

Indians have a reputation for being mighty at their den. They also have a reputation for being generous, too. Since eternity, they have served as ideal launching pads for debutants and resurrected careers of batsmen. Amla was another beneficiary.

Like VVS Laxman, Amla was a slow starter. There were glimpses of brilliance but rarely a big score. The India tour of 2008 was set to change that.

Until then, he averaged 33.92 from his 22 Tests. All of his three hundreds had come at home.

Hashim Amla during the India tour in 2008 where struck his first century in Indian soil    Getty Images
Hashim Amla during the India tour in 2008 where struck his first century in Indian soil Getty Images

Before the Virender Sehwag s savage butchery en route his 319 at Chennai, Amla s disciplined 159 had put South Africa in charge.

Amla would go on to dominate for the next seven years.

Trivia: Amla has scored 6,558 runs at No. 3. He is the fourth-highest run-scorer at that position behind Kumar Sangakkara, Rahul Dravid and Ricky Ponting.

Amla s best came in between 2008 and mid-2015.

From March 2008 to March 2015
Batsmen M R Ave HS 100s 50s
Alastair Cook 84 6,436 46.63 294 18 30
Michael Clarke 75 6,388 52.36 329* 22 19
Kumar Sangakkara 59 6,171 61.09 319 22 27
Hashim Amla 60 5,468 60.75 311* 20 22
AB de Villiers 61 5,339 62.81 278* 17 23

The slump began in 2015. Across the last 17 Tests Amla has averaged 33.62. It slipped further to a shade above 24 in the ongoing series against Sri Lanka.

He is 33, still in the time span when batsmen peak. Meanwhile, he has been breaking records and barging his way into new fastest-to clubs in ODIs.

In between there has been the resilient blockathon in Delhi and a sublime double-ton a month later. Maybe the 100th Test has something special in store for him.

The batsman

This is the era of AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli. Then there are Williamsons, Smiths and Roots. Someone like Rohit Sharma will come and set the TRPs to soar.

Amla is destined not for global billboards.

His religion prohibits him to pocket the money earned from the national team sponsor (let alone promote it), an alcoholic beverage brand.

Yet Amla keeps surpassing the ODI records that Kohli keeps posting. Once touted as a Test specialist, Amla has 6,519 runs at over 51 in ODIs. These runs have come at a strike rate in excess of 89, more than Sachin Tendulkar s.

His technique was earlier termed hopeless. The great Barry Richards used to be one of Amla s early critics. His back-lift towards gully had bewildered many (including a certain Herschelle Gibbs). But then, there were Richie Benauds. Richie saw an artist in him.

Don t worry about his technique, Gary Kirsten said to writer Richard Calland. Bradman picked his bat up towards gully. At this level, it s all about temperament, and anyone who can score 250 in a SuperSport Series final has got what it takes.

Time and again, Kirsten has emphasised on hunger for runs at this level.

At one stage Amla was worried. He tried to correct his flawed technique. The jibes of racial selections had hurt him. Dolphins coach Phil Russell had stepped in at the right time.

Phil said to me, You re scoring so many runs with your technique, why do you want to change it? Why try to fix something that s not broken? If you re making runs, nobody talks about your technique . This was the best piece of advice I ever got, Amla would later tell Ali Bacher.

He scores now. He makes batting an art. His strong wrists and the flicks make purists drool, and his drives are as good as they get.

Dale Steyn, the supreme pacer of this generation admits he hates bowling to Amla in the nets.

99 Tests, 7,665 runs at 49.45. South Africa s first triple centurion. One of the architects of South Africa s supremacy overseas in between 2006 to 2015, and their climb to the top in Test cricket.

Amla can look back with the usual smile.

The man

The Amla brothers are second-generation expatriate Indians in the country. His parents are doctors. Ahmed Amla had to fraternise with Indians mostly for racial reasons, but things got easier by the time Hashim grew up.

Peter Roebuck wrote in ESPNCricinfo: Of all his achievements, Amla s emergence as the first member of the large Indian community to play Test cricket for South Africa has been the most significant. During the apartheid years the Indians tended to lie low. Shy by nature, resourceful by disposition, aware of their origins as indentured labour, they were caught in a racial no-man s land, and so concentrated on making money and gaining a good education. To them cricket was an enthusiasm, almost an indulgence. Certainly, it could not be a profession.

A second-generation Indian whose grandparents arrived in South Africa not as slaves from Gujarat, Amla has the wristy stroke-play the cricket establishment stereotypically identifies with players from the subcontinent. Yet, he dismissed the attempts at narrow cultural-racial mythologising before his debut against India at Eden Gardens in 2004 by stating my blood is green.

***

His hundred would spoil Ponting s farewell at Perth. However, after the match, he was caught on camera asking the legend, can I have a hug?

Ponting had obliged.

When Dean Jones was sacked for calling him a terrorist on air, a hurt Amla had been quick to forgive.

He told DNA, I was told what Deano has said something. He called me to say sorry in the evening. I said forget it. I ve forgiven him. As a Muslim, I ve been brought up to forgive others faults in the hope that the Almighty will forgive our faults. Forgetting and forgiving is part of being a Muslim.

In the world gripped in religion-based terror-phobia, Amla breaks notions.

As much as he is diligent and disciplined in his own faith, he is also extremely tolerant of other people s beliefs. That s what makes him the perfect team man, Kirsten told ESPNCricinfo.

They made him captain. It was an ethnic and cultural triumph in many ways. When countered with the obvious question, Amla s response was simple: Our country is pretty multicultural. It doesn t matter what ethnicity you have, if you re good enough to captain your country then so be it. But I don t have any particular ambitions to be captain. To play for your country is honour enough.

Many cricketers, Steyn included, enjoyed playing under Amla. He had got the captaincy ahead of AB. He does not live under illusions. The moment results had started to dry up, he introspected. He felt others could do it better than him. He stepped down.

Once again, with a calm smile.

That calmness was always infectious. It still is.

***

For all the simplicity and brilliance, Amla has also earned a cult status in South Africa, just like Makhaya Ntini before him. The Hashim Army follows the team these days.

And then, it is not about his devoted fan club either. Amla s fan club stretches across all ages. Little Kieron Adams testify that:

The journey from an unassuming, meek lad to The Mighty Hash has been incredible. He may not be the natural leader. He may not have the ideal back-lift. But Amla stepping into play his 100th Test remains invaluable and a role model.

Well played, Hash.