Nick Sadleir: What is your first cricket memory?
Hashim Amla: Playing with my brother (Ahmed Amla, Dolphins, 106 first-class matches at an average of 35). My earliest memory is of playing with him in our little courtyard at home. He is four years older than me and it helped having two guys to grow up together. Because his friends were older than me and I tagged along and played with them, it helped me to play with the older guys. In the long run you never know but looking back, perhaps that was the stepping stone – having to face different bowlers who were older and more experienced than me.
NS: You were married not too long ago. Is it tricky being away from home for most of the year?
HA: I was married a year ago so I’m still getting used to experiencing the fact that I’m on the road a lot of the time. But I have enjoyed it so far. It is a great privilege to travel the world playing for one’s country. And I still get to take time out and enjoy whatever country I am in and also to spend with my family.
NS: Was not playing in the IPL a good chance to work on your batting by playing first-class cricket?
HA: Absolutely. I had the chance to spend a month with Nottinghamshire. And I had a great time over there playing on some different pitches.
NS: You scored a hundred on debut for them, didn’t you?
HA: Ha ha yes, fortunately I did. While the T20 World Cup was on, I was able to take the place of their overseas pro, David Hussey. So I covered for him and I was very fortunate because it went well (Amla was a run-scoring machine all month at Notts) and gave me the chance to play some good cricket before coming on a big tour.
NS: Last year you had a good stint at Essex – also making a hundred, a big 180-odd, on debut for them?
HA: Well it is always nice to start well. It helps you to settle down, takes the pressure off the rest of your time at the club.
NS: And I seem to remember a century on Pro40 debut for Essex as well. They were calling you W.G. (as in W.G. Grace) in Chelmsford.
HA: (Modest laughter)… When it rains it pours sometimes you know. It’s all part of the experience, I’ve enjoyed my time in England. I guess I have just been fortunate to have two good county stints. It has really helped my game.
NS: What was your most special innings ever?
HA: That’s a tough one. Although it was a losing battle, we couldn’t quite hold on for a draw. But in the second innings this year at Eden Gardens, Kolkata, we almost hung on for a draw. (Amla made 114 in the first innings and stood alone in the second innings with 123 not out. South Africa capitulated with only a couple of overs remaining on the last day).I got a hundred odd and if we had held on it would have been so special if we had survived. Scoring 250 in Nagpur was special, as is any other century or accolade, but because of the intensity of the fight, I hold that second innings at Eden Gardens as one of the most memorable ones.
NS: My favourite innings of yours was when you saved South Africa from an almost certain loss by blocking out a draw at Lord’s for two days.
HA: Certainly that was a special one. You always just want to do what is required for the team. I guess my 250 in Nagpur was important because it set up victory for the team. As you’ve shown, it is hard to isolate a favourite innings.
NS: You were an integral part of the first South African team to ever win a Test series in Australia. What was that like?
HA: It was a lovely experience. It was my first time with the national team in Aus and there have been a few teams who have gone there before and not won. So I got the feeling that players in our team who had been there and done badly really appreciated a lot more than we did. But it was a special experience. Australia is a lovely place to tour and the cricket was very intense so that was great.
NS: Does it feel like the South African team has lost their way a bit since then? Maybe struggled to live up to that performance?
HA: Well that is a tough one. We came back and Australia beat us at home. We have been pretty consistent in Tests though over the past few years. In ODIs we are still trying to build our team. But in the Test arena I think we have been one of the best teams in the world. We basically are just trying to keep on improving.
NS: You have managed to score hundreds at will in Test cricket, but you haven’t yet cemented your place in the ODI team, despite a good average and strike rate.
HA: I wouldn’t say hundreds at will – I wish it was that easy! But yes in ODI cricket I have been in and out of the team, often when Graeme has been injured. I feel I have made an impact in ODi cricket but I would like to score more hundreds.
NS: Can you see a situation where teams start fielding entirely different squads, even coaches, for the various formats of the game?
HA: I think the issue of different teams is evident around the world. It has started already, especially when it comes to T20 specialists. Different coaches – I don’t see it yet in the near future, Players are developing their own skills and trying to adapt quickly between the formats though.
NS: Jacques Kallis has said that it has been disruptive working with Duncan Fletcher and now he’s gone (Fletcher hasn’t worked with the SA team since Mickey Arthur resigned early this year). Did you learn much from him?
HA: Yes, I definitely learnt a few technical things from him. My game I pick up here and there but I didn’t get to spend enough time with him for us to develop a long bond, which Jacques did. But we know how technically sound Kallis is anyway.
NS: Has it felt like the Proteas have been in a transitional phase since Mickey resigned? Does South Africa have the right personnel to get to the top of the rankings and stay there?
HA: We definitely have the right personnel to do that. I played under Mickey for most of my five-year comeback career. Mickey was around for quite a while and adapting and changing isn’t easy but it is part and parcel of the game so I think everyone has handled it well and moved on.
NS: Hash, how do you stay so focused when you are out in the middle for hours and hours at a time? What’s going through your mind out there?
HA: Batting is just about taking it one ball a time and that’s all I’m trying to do. Fortunately you have a partner out there for company. Sometimes it gets humorous out there. But the thing is to just keep guiding each other, especially on a hot day. The thing is to keep reminding each other about the simpler things but the real motivation is that you are playing for your country and you want to do as best you can.
This interview appeared in the July 2010 edition of Spin Magazine.