RAWALPINDI: Who has been the most self-effacing among all international cricketers of the 21st Century? The answer to this query is probably simply because the majority would definitely cast their votes in favor of former batting great Hashim Amla.
After announcing retirement from the international arena last August just weeks following his country’s embarrassing preliminary-round exit from the ICC World Cup, Amla has been busy globetrotting across various franchise-based leagues.
The affable South Africa legend — who turns 37 on March 31 — has been engaged by the 2017 Pakistan Super League champion side Peshawar Zalmi as their batting mentor for the ongoing fifth edition.
In an exclusive interview with Dawn, Amla candidly speaks of challenges of the PSL V during his current trip to Pakistan, and reminiscent about the glittering international career.
“I was at the Bangladesh Premier League when Mohammad Akram [Peshawar Zalmi head coach] relayed a message whether I could join the team as the role of batting mentor. Personally I felt it would be a good opportunity for me to see what PSL is like and grow both as a person and a player-cum-coach, albeit initially as a player but in the end, the offer acceptable to me was to become the batting mentor,” Amla said. “The reason I wanted to be part [of PSL] to keep working on my skills because I’m still playing in different leagues.”
Commenting the Peshawar Zalmi squad, Amla observed: “It is a wonderful squad and in terms of experience, we’ve got some fantastic players such as Shoaib Malik and [Darren] Sammy and a good crop of youngsters too there.
“Haider Ali is an exceptionally talented young guy. And then we have Imam-ul-Haq against whom I played quite a few times and Umar Amin, who is not a newcomer but still a very good batsman, plus a few other young Pakistani exciting players. I’m really enjoying working with them. I think we got a good nucleus and Peshawar Zalmi can go all the way since they had been doing very well [in reaching three finals on the trot] and have a good history to back them.”
Amla singled out Tom Banton as a quality player among the foreign contingent and rated the 21-year-old from English county Buckinghamshire town of Chiltern as a very good signing by the franchise.
“He’s bound to get better and better. I played against Tom during the T10 league in Abu Dhabi recently and he is a fantastic sensation who is capable of big things because he has all the shots to be successful at the top level. On top of that, we’ve Liam Livingstone and Liam Dawson. So I think we got a fantastic squad at our disposal,” he asserted. “Our bowling is equally well-balanced with Wahab [Riaz] and Hasan [Ali] leading the attack and also picked several young bowlers [Mohammad Amir Khan and Aamir Ali] as well. I’m really enjoying with all of them.”
Amla is all praise for the PSL while putting it among the topmost leagues. “In terms of standard of cricket, it is definitely among the top leagues because all teams here are pretty strong on paper and have superstars. I would say PSL is among the top three [leagues] in the world and can easily be classified alongside the IPL and the MSL [Mzansi Super League] in South Africa. And on paper, the bowling standard seen in PSL is probably the highest and very competitive. From the crowd perspective also, PSL is simply amazing because the fans here are not only very passionate about cricket but also extremely knowledgeable too.
“Another thing I must add here is that Pakistan has a great heritage of having fantastic bowlers over a long period [of time] and in this PSL every team has got international bowlers who are exciting to watch.
“It is great to see international coming back to Pakistan gradually and PSL has been one reason behind it and now entire league being played in the country is proof that Pakistan is a very safe place [to tour] for cricketers from other countries.”
Amla, who was a wristy right-handed batsman, has a plethora of records under the belt. No player in the history of One-day International (ODI) cricket has managed the remarkable feat of being the quickest in the terms of innings to the landmarks of 2,000 (40 innings), 3,000 (59), 4,000 (81), 5,000 (101), 6,000 (123) and 7,000 (150), while only Virat Kohli has reached 8,000 ODI runs quicker than Amla.
Amla is the second most run-getter for South Africa at the highest level after the great all-rounder Jacques Kallis with 9,282 runs from 124 matches at an average of 46.64, while his 28 centuries are next best after 45 amassed by Kallis.
No South African has made a Test triple century barring Amla, while he is the third all-time leading batsman from the Rainbow Nation in ODIs with a tally of 8,113 runs in 181 games.
Recalling his times with South Africa and pinpoint the best innings he played and the best bowlers he encountered, Amla pointed it was a blessing that his country was doing consistently well in international cricket.
“When I think of the past, I must say that Alhamdulillah we were winning more matches than we lost during the peak days [of my career]. South Africa embarked on big tours to Australia, England, and India and performed very well in terms of results. We went to Australia in 2008, 2012 and 2016. To win three [Test] series Down Under gave an unbelievable feeling to all of us because these types of results don’t come to many teams.
“It was by far the highlight of my career to be involved on those tours and be part of a very good winning team and got opportunities to be played alongside some amazing cricketers like Kallis and [Graeme] Smith, who without any doubt was the best captain I played under. He was tactically very good and was excellent in man-management skills.
“Among the Test knocks I would rate 311 against England [at The Oval] and 196 versus Australia [at the WACA in Perth] both in 2012 as the probably best because both helped South Africa win the series. The finest ODI innings, perhaps, was the one [129 against the West Indies] at Roseau in Dominica during May 2010 when the conditions were very tough because it was very oppressing under the hot sun. And the [unbeaten] 97 against Australia at Cape Town in 2016 was also very special.
“The most difficult bowler I’d ever played against was Mohammad Asif. Not express like some others but Asif was the best seamer I faced because his control was amazing and the line phenomenal. And the best spinner was [Muttiah] Muralitharan because I had no idea which way the ball would spin!”