Hashim Amla retires: Bearded wonder, barrier-breaker, record-setter and South African sporting icon

Hashim Amla retires: Bearded wonder, barrier-breaker, record-setter and South African sporting icon

Amla retires from international cricket as South Africa's only Test triple-centurion.

Updated: August 9, 2019 8:05 AM IST | Edited By: Jamie Alter
Durable. That is the word one associates with Hashim Amla, who on Thursday announced his retirement from international cricket.

His zen-like presence at the crease is what most people will remember Amla for, but being durable is perhaps Amla's legacy. He changed perceptions, he broke records, he carried his team through many tough times. He wasn't cut out for the captaincy, as it panned out, but as a batsman Amla left his mark on international cricket.

He is a South African sporting icon. The bearded wonder. 'Hash'. A legend of the game, who retires from international cricket as South Africa's second-highest run-scorer in Test cricket after Jacques Kallis, with 9282 at 46.64, and his 28 centuries are also second to only Kallis. His career-best 311 not out at The Oval in 2012 is South Africa's only Test triple-hundred.

In ODIs, Amla's 8113 runs are third most for South Africa after Kallis and AB de Villiers. No South African has more than his 27 ODI centuries. He knocked off several batting records in ODIs too, such as fastest to 2000, 3000, 4000, 5000, 6000 and 7000 runs and the quickest to get to 10 centuries.

Belligerent back-foot play and supple wrists is what Amla probably inherited from India when his paternal grandfather migrated to South Africa from Gujarat. That, allied with sublime footwork and sage-like discipline, turned the soft-spoken Amla into a world-beater.

Talked of as a fine talent when a teenager, Amla led South Africa to the final of the 2002 Under-19 World Cup final. There was plenty of expectation from him because of what it meant for a young Muslim, Asian-origin to captain a country like South Africa. Amla got several starts in the tournament but did not always convert, except for fifties against Bangladesh in the opener and India in the semi-final.

At the age of 21, he led Natal in South African domestic cricket and backed it up with four hundreds in his first eight innings. After stacking up runs for Dolphins, Amla earned a Test cap in 2004-05 but had a mediocre series in India and then was was exposed by England's pace attack. He made 36 runs in four innings and questions were raised about his technique and defensive style of play. He was, not surprisingly, dropped.

Should he have gone to the 2019 World Cup? Probably not, though like Dale Steyn it was a romantic notion to have one last shot at winning that elusive trophy. After South Africa were beaten by England in the World Cup opener, during which Amla copped a blow to the helmet from Jofra Archer, he and Steyn turned up at The Rose Bowl two days before the match with India.

Steyn was trying his damnedest to prove his fitness, and Amla was there to show he was not too damaged by Archer's blow. Personally, Steyn and Amla, and collectively, as a team, South Africa were in a tough spot. Thus the commitment of Steyn and Amla on a warm afternoon spoke of their desperation to get back into the XI and help their team.

That was the lasting impression of Amla - a trier, a perfectionist, the pivot of the South African team.

The final words of Amla's retirement announcement were "Love and peace." Indeed, when Amla was at the crease and in his element, those are the two words you felt watching him.