Hashim Amla: South Africa will find its feet again, pretty soon

Former South Africa captain Hashim Amla discusses the T10 format, current shape of South African cricket, Indian fast bowling and more.

Hashim Amla is confident South African cricket will weather the turbulent times and find its feet again.   -  AP

In a format where muscular hits for sixes seem commonplace and necessary, Hashim Amla stands out as a participant who can perhaps try to find other ways to excel. Associated with craft and elegance but not with brute strength, the former South Africa captain has come over to the Abu Dhabi T10 League to try his luck in the seeming 90-minute slogathon.

Amla believes there is a place for deft touches even in this ultra-condensed format of cricket. He feels batsmen with the ability to pierce gaps through the in-field do have a chance to excel. He says T10 is “not a one-type-of-player format.”

In a chat with Sportstar, the former South Africa captain discusses the T10 format and its challenges, and shares his opinions on his country’s Test team.

Q. How has the T10 league been so far for you?

A. I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Ten overs is a very short time, especially for me having grown in an era of Test cricket and one-day cricket, with Test cricket being what you watched most of the time. But as we see in the last 10 years, the game has got shorter and shorter, and now we have a 10-over game. It has been pleasantly surprising because you’re starting to see patterns in the game. That’s basically how I felt over the last week or so.

Can you elaborate on those patterns?

It’s only been three years with this, and to be honest with you, I haven’t really watched the last two seasons, except to follow the scores briefly. If you see now what the scores are in the 10 overs, during this competition you see that on some days when we started in the first couple of days scores of 110 seemed to be a defendable score and a gettable score. You had some days where teams are scoring 130-140. The wicket’s maybe got a bit better. Different styles of bowling had become a bit more predictable maybe, and that’s why the scores have gone up, so those types of things. There is a rhythm to it and a pattern.

Chris Lynn has described his mantra as “see ball, hit ball.” We have seen players with a classical approach to batsmanship excel in T20s, but can these types of players survive in T10, too?

You’ve got to put down what your objective is. If your objective is to score as many runs, in 20 balls if you face, everybody does it differently. Yes, the person who muscles the ball for sixes may have a better chance but may not be necessarily as consistent and [he’s] not necessarily going to always do it. If you break it down to what the strategy is, every batter has a different way of doing that. So, [even if you] can knock the ball into the gap for twos, and fours, you can make it up [later in your innings]. Hitting sixes is a great skill to have and a great ability and a great blessing to have, and that skill can also be worked on by players. This is why T10 is going to push players to keep on upgrading and upskilling themselves which is what T20 did to the one-day game, it’s all about bowlers and batters upskilling in whatever way they feel they can maximise their talent. I don’t think it’s a one-type-of-player format, as long as the person has an idea of how he wants to maximise his talent.

According to Amla, the T10 format favours the big six-hitters like Chris Lynn.   -  Special Arrangement

 

You’ve captained the South African Test team for a considerable period. In this rapid-quick format, how hard is it to strategise?

You have a game-plan, but it’s always open-ended, in case things change. Certainly it puts a lot more onus on the bowler to be able to be comfortable to set the field that he sets, that he can deliver too, because you do not have the luxury of the captain coming to you every ball and that type of thing. So, it does put the onus on the bowlers and that’s why if you have experienced bowlers, it can certainly take you a long way, reason being they know what to do. They set the field they’re comfortable; if someone hits a six off a good ball, they’re not flustered with it, because that’s going to happen. If you try to bowl a yorker and you go slightly wrong and get hit for six, it’s not to dwell on that whereas a more inexperienced person would dwell on it. The experienced guy is going to say, ‘O.K. next ball.’ That’s why experience [comes into play], particularly in the bowling department.

What about batting?

[In] batting, people who muscle the ball for sixes have an advantage because they can mishit a six. Last year, in Sharjah, the wicket was a lot flatter [in the T10 League]. Boundaries were much smaller. This field has maybe given other players a bit more opportunity to score runs. I don’t see the need to hit sixes all the time, but they do have the advantage. And I don’t think experience is so much more important in a batting department because it is such a short game, as Chris Lynn said, when you see the ball, you’ve got to hit the ball. So you don’t need that much experience to work that one out.

Is there a plan?

For me there is a plan. You want to hit the ball in the gaps. And you maximise for every ball. That’s how I see it. Everybody sees it differently.

What about setting up a strategy of the batting unit?

As a team, you’ve left it to individuals to see their game-plan. You can’t have a set game-plan in T10, the game-plan is of course to score as many runs as you can. PowerPlay is three overs and you want to try and get as many [as you can]. Very seldom are you bowled out which does happen but you’ve got to keep going.

In the recent Test series between India and South Africa, what did you make of India’s fast bowling performance?

The wickets were very good. I think they were very good Test wickets. It’s just that India batted and bowled pretty well. Fielding is part of it, but batting and bowling they were outstanding, and that’s why they dominated the South African team. Fast bowlers did really well, they bowled at the stumps and managed to bowl more wicket-taking balls when needed. And that’s the sign of a good bowling attack. Fortunately, I’ve played in South African teams where we knew when the form was with you as a team, the batters score runs and the bowlers do their job. India seemed a team where they had good form with them, and that’s why you see them perform really well.

Amla felt Indian pacers bowled more wicket-taking deliveries than the South Africans in the recently concluded Test series. Photo: K.R. DEEPAK   -  K.R. Deepak

 

What did you make of Dean Elgar’s performance?

Dean is a fantastic player. He’s very gutsy and he’s in some ways unorthodox in the way he goes about his work. For the years that I’ve played with him, I’ve always admired how he grinds out his runs wherever he is in and he’s there to do the hard yards. Cricket’s about doing the hard yards, when you come across a good bowling attack and Dean’s one of those guys who scores runs all over the world.

He seemed to be able to handle the spinners well.

Dean played well. Faf [du Plessis] had a good knock and Quinny (Quinton de Kock) got a hundred as well. They played the spinners pretty [well]. The wicket was not turning prodigiously, from what I remember and I don’t think the spinners played as big a role as they did in the previous tour when we were there. It was more the seamers who seemed to be really effective. By and large, Dean played the spinners really well.

Is there one bowler among the Indian fast bowling unit that stood out?

As a bowling unit they bowled well. [Mohammed] Shami, Ishant [Sharma], [Umesh] Yadav, they all played their part and that’s what a team who’s in form [does] – that’s what happens eventually.

Kagiso Rabada bowled plenty of overs in that Test series. He has been having to constantly juggle between different formats. For a young fast bowler trying to stay relevant and play all formats of the game, how does he keep himself mentally and physically fresh?

I don’t know. Being a fast bowler is completely different from being a batsman. Physically, it takes a different toll on your body. There are a few guys around the world who are doing the balance – it’s KG (Rabada), [Jasprit] Bumrah, Pat Cummins. These guys are in a similar type of boat playing a lot of cricket. So, I don’t know what to say because I don’t know how you balance it. They’re all individuals, they’ll have to assess their own bodies and their mental space.

Scoring a Test hundred is more enjoyable for Amla than in ODI and T20 cricket. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

 

You’ve been part of the No. 1-ranked South African Test team. On what fronts do the current team have to improve upon to reach that goal?

Experience is one, that comes over time. South African team had a really tough season in India. What happens is when that happens, people highlight a lot of things. A year before that South Africa did really well in South Africa beating England, India and Australia. These questions were not raised up. I’m always a little hesitant to get too caught up in the result. I still think we have a really, really good team. Aiden Markram is a wonderful talent, Dean’s quality, Faf is a good player, Quinny is a good player. You’ve got a host of world-class players and you don’t want to start now to nitpicking and trying to find faults in the team when come the first Test against England, you’ve got a really good Test match, and the confidence of the team goes up again. So, I would go too much into it, not any more than I have gone other times I’ve been asked. I know everything takes time and the quality that South African team has it will find its feet again, pretty soon I feel.

Finally, which to you is the more exciting format – T10 or T20?

T10 is a bit early. I’ve only played five or six games. Certainly T20 is a wonderful format, but Test cricket will always be the best format to enjoy and I’d say if you score a hundred in Test cricket, you score a hundred in one-day cricket and you score a hundred in T10 or T20, every batsman will tell you a hundred in Test cricket means a lot.

(The writer is in Abu Dhabi on an invitation from Abu Dhabi T10 League)