“If you’re sure then … if you’re quite, quite sure …”
Richard Madley, the IPL auctioneer, brought his hammer down, visibly disappointed that Hashim Amla found no takers. This was during the auctions ahead of the 2015 tournament. Amla had a base price of Rs 2 crore, and not many were willing to shell out. The next year, Amla halved his asking price. Still Madley was met with blank faces when the name was called.
The message was clear. As good a batsman as Amla was in Tests and ODIs, the IPL franchises didn’t fancy him in the shortest format. You couldn’t blame them either. It’s a format which associates itself with glitz and money, power and force. Amla, with his kindly smile and gentlemanly disposition, didn’t look the part. He was the nice guy in a dog-eats-dog world. (IPL 2017: Full coverage)
He eventually got his IPL outing when Kings XI Punjab lost Shaun Marsh to injury midway through the 2016 season. Amla, however, fared poorly in the six games he played. He averaged just 26.16, aggregating 157 runs, mostly made up of one knock – a 96 he scored against Sunrisers Hyderabad in Mohali off 56 balls, albeit in a losing cause as Punjab crashed out.
But it’s almost a year since now, and things have changed drastically. Amla seems to have grown into the role of an IPL opener. On Thursday (April 20), he scored his first ever Twenty20 century, hammering an unbeaten 104 in 60 balls for Kings XI Punjab against Mumbai Indians. It shot him up to the third spot among the top run-scorers, just five runs behind David Warner at second. Amla’s career T20 strike-rate is 127.50. In this tournament as of now, it stands at a healthy 141.81 – Warner, who is widely regarded a T20 natural, has a strike-rate of 134.26 so far.
But it isn’t as though Amla has suddenly embraced power and force and glitz, and everything else one would associate with a century-scoring IPL opener. He is still the same old Amla – after bringing up his century with a flick for six off Lasith Malinga, he broke into a smile, almost embarrassed at the irony of it all. He had his first century in a format he wasn’t supposed to be good at, and more than that, he had schooled Malinga – one of the finest bowlers in T20 cricket – en route. Amla hammered 51 runs in the 16 balls he faced from Malinga – the second-highest figure for a batsman against a bowler in IPL history. Virat Kohli’s 52 runs in 17 balls against Umesh Yadav in 2013 holds the record, and Amla missed it just marginally. Not that he was going for the record. He probably wasn’t even aware of it. Also Read: Any team can reach playoffs, says Hashim Amla
Amla did play around the wicket, in a manner you wouldn’t see him do in ODIs, perhaps. He shuffled across the stumps a few times, looking to flick it over fine leg. And in general, there was more intent to score at pace. But that is the nature of the game, and Amla did it all within his framework of touch cricket. He found the fence all of 14 times, including six audacious sixes one of which was particularly pleasing, off the back foot down the ground.
It wasn’t a century one would see too often in the IPL. The contrast was laid threadbare when in the next innings Jos Buttler went about punishing the Punjab bowlers. His 37-ball knock of 77 was everything Amla’s was not – it was an exhibition brutal strength and power – but they were both effective in their own ways. “Hashim Amla was a complete purist – he was just playing through the V,” said Glenn Maxwell, the Punjab captain. “Jos Buttler was just completely destructive. It didn’t matter what we bowled – slower balls, wide yorkers – he just hit everything.”
At the end of the first innings, Amla found himself shaking the hands of a bunch of players in blue, all rushing to the former South African captain to offer congratulations. It was good sportsmanship, but it was also an acknowledgment of how special the knock was. Unfortunately for Amla, it was to be bitter-sweet. Buttler’s efforts, coupled with sizeable knocks from Parthiv Patel and Nitish Rana, helped Mumbai coast to an eight-wicket win.
Afterwards, Amla was given numerous opportunities to speak of his knock, and perhaps divulge the details on the extra work he would have done behind the scenes to make his batting more T20-friendly. The press, however, were left disappointed. Amla being Amla, the focus was all on the team, and what Punjab needed to do henceforth to keep their campaign on track.
“I’m glad to get some runs, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “It’s a good wicket to bat on, it’s a smallish field, so just really glad to get some runs on the board. It’s never nice to lose regular matches like we have. Hopefully, we go into the next game and manage to get a victory.”
Someone even asked him a pointed question about taking apart Malinga in the manner that he did. Amla wasn’t drawn into it though. “Lasith is an excellent bowler. Some days you just manage to get some boundaries off him, but he’s a world class bowler,” was all he would say.
Maxwell, however, was happy to laud Amla, stressing on the importance of the knock given the unavailability of Manan Vohra, who had scored a 95 against Sunrisers Hyderabad in their previous encounter. “It’s a very small ground and a very good wicket, so maybe we were 20 or 30 runs short. But that doesn’t take anything away from the way Hashim Amla batted,” said Maxwell. “A hundred in a T20 game is always a very special achievement and the way he played was outstanding – anchored the innings and did a great job. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough the way Mumbai batted.
“It’s just pure class. He does it regularly for us – he got 90-odd (last season). He continues to do a great job for us at the top. Unfortunately, Manan (Vohra) was unavailable tonight, but I thought Hashim did a great job in taking over from where he left off. To get hundred in a losing side hurts quite a bit, but it doesn’t take away anything from the class that he is.”
Noticeably, Maxwell repeatedly used the word ‘class’ to describe Amla. It is a term that has been used for the South African throughout his career, and again, it was the hallmark of his knock. If he can keep doing it for the rest of the tournament, you can be sure Madley won’t be disappointed again when Amla’s name comes up at the next IPL auction.