Lessons everyone can learn from Amla

Lessons everyone can learn from Amla

By Dileep Premachandran | 12 January, 2013
Hashim Amla

The world's best batsman will turn 30 in March. His feats in the two longer forms of the game are already the stuff of legend, and his career trajectory is a lesson for any selector or critic who writes off a player too soon. In his first 30 Tests, he averaged less than 40, with six hundreds. Four of those were against New Zealand or Bangladesh.

In 37 Tests since, he has scored 13 hundreds and 15 half-centuries while averaging 61.68. He didn't make his ODI debut till he was 25, but has since gone on to score ten hundreds and average nearly 60 after 60 innings. Every top side, whether that's England or Australia or India, has realised just how good he is.

Yet, when Hashim Amla made his debut at Eden Gardens just over eight years ago, he was mainly seen as another "quota" selection, another example of the "affirmative action" that men like Kevin Pietersen claimed had forced them to leave South Africa.

His first stint in the side lasted just three Tests. England's quick bowlers needed just two games in 2004-05 to expose various chinks in his technique. It took him more than a year to come back, and even longer to convince the doubters. That he has done so is partly a credit to South Africa's selection panel, which kept faith in him.

Amla is hardly alone in thriving when given a second chance. Matthew Hayden was horribly out of his depth during his first stint in the Australian side. In fact, there's a whole page in his autobiography that deals with the sense of foreboding with which he faced Curtly Ambrose.

In 37 Tests since, he has scored 13 hundreds and 15 half-centuries while averaging 61.68. He didn’t make his ODI debut till he was 25, but has since gone on to score ten hundreds and average nearly 60 after 60 innings. Every top side, whether that’s England or Australia or India, has realised just how good he is.

Dropcap OnBut when he was recalled half a decade later, he went on to establish himself as one of the most dominant opening batsmen in the game's history. On the tour of India in 2001, when he was initially seen as one of the lesser lights, he cut, drove and swept his way to 549 runs in three Tests.

Damien Martyn was another. Allegedly dropped after a poor stroke in the Sydney loss to South Africa in 1993-94, he returned to the side only in 2000. When Australia cemented their place as an all-time-great side with wins in Sri Lanka (3-0) and India (2-1) in 2004, he got four centuries, all made with unhurried elegance.

In these times of transition, Indian cricket needs to remember such stories. Great players have moved on, but it shouldn't be forgotten that they too needed time to find their niche. Rahul Dravid made just one hundred in his first 22 Tests. He had a healthy average, but if smart alecs had been in charge, he could have been dumped for lacking "big-innings temperament". VVS Laxman, who was his partner when Indian cricket turned a corner in Kolkata, averaged just 27 after his first 20 Tests.

Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli have already made an impression in the Test arena. But with so many overseas assignments coming up over the next two seasons, there will be several failures too. Defeats breeds frustration, but lashing out at the players serves no purpose, especially when they're the best you've got.

The pick-'em-and-drop-'em philosophy has probably seen the end of S Badrinath's international career. The likes of Abhinav Mukund and Murali Vijay no longer know where they stand as far as the big picture is concerned. Ajinkya Rahane needs to be told in no uncertain terms that he will be given enough chances to succeed.

The same goes for bowlers, whether that Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Shami Ahmed or Pragyan Ojha. There isn't so much talent out there that India can afford to be cavalier with it.

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