Hashim Amla retires: ‘Remember, in life no one deserves anything. It’s all God’s grace’

Hashim Amla, South Africa’s second-highest Test run-scorer of all time, has announced his retirement from all forms of cricket at the age of 39. He amassed 9282 runs in 124 Tests – second only to Jacques Kallis, hit 27 ODI hundreds and piled up 18672 runs in all formats for South Africa.

Three years ago when he announced his retirement from international cricket, Prasanna Agoram, who was the performance analyst for South Africa for years, wrote his tribute to Amla for this newspaper.

Where can I start the story of the greatest human being I have come across. The world knows him as a great batsman – and he of course is – but my memories of him are about the incredible human being that he is. There are so many stories – many leave me embarrassed even now but it needs to be said to let the fans get a glimpse of this rare human. So, let me start with an incident at his house at a dinner.

Hashim Amla (Files)

I had just finished eating and was looking for where to keep my plate when suddenly Hashim took the plate off my hands, wiped the leftovers into the dustbin, and took the plate to the sink. I just stood frozen there and even as I mumbled out my protests, he just said, “Arre bhai, you have come to my house. You are my brother, my guru in some ways. Let me pay my respects to you.”

Another dinner, another memory. I am not a big eater and that day I couldn’t finish what was on my plate. As I stood up with the plate, he said, “Bhai, don’t waste food.” And he emptied out the leftover food from my plate onto his plate and ate it. I was again left staring, and I realized what changes I need to do in my own life to become a better person. Hashim was my guru in that.

A cricketing story now, that again tells you the kind of man he is. It was the deciding Test in Australia in 2012 – we needed to win that to become No.1 in Tests. By the start of the last session on the second day, we were batting for the second time in the game, with a lead of 60 runs or so. Every time he would pad up, he had the habit of asking me, “what should be my approach?’ That day, considering the game situation, I told him, “Bhai, counter attack. We have 38 overs left in the day, if we can get to 140 or something, the lead would be 200. Tomorrow we can add 80 runs – anything over 275 should help us win this match. So, I would suggest you to be aggressive tonight.” It was, of course, easier said than done. Australia had a fiery attack led by Mitchell Starc.

But Amla just went all out – he blazed away so much that at one point the coach Gary Kirsten came to me and asked me to tell what I told Amla. I said “nothing coach”. Gary smiled and urged me to be honest. I told him about our chat and he smiled and said, “if Hashim is not out at the end of the day, tell him to go slow tomorrow – we have three days to go. There is no need to finish the match so quickly!”

When Hashim came back at stumps, he asked me, “Bhaijaan, are you happy?” We had scored 232 runs in that 38 overs, 300 ahead by day 2! And I told him, I have one more request: “Can you take the game as deep as possible tomorrow. Bat on. Take your time.” And he came back with 196 the next day and said, “Bhaijaan, happy now?” and I told him, “Bhai, you deserved a double hundred” And you know what he said? “Remember one thing, in life no one deserves anything. It’s all God’s grace. Remember when I was on 4, I had inside-edged a delivery very close past the stumps. That should have bowled me. It was a very good ball.

“The Australians ‘deserved’ that wicket, you might say. In fact now, in their dressing room, they might be saying I was lucky, and scored 192 runs more than what I deserved. So, I am just grateful that I got so many runs and hopefully we can win this match. Be happy.”

That’s the kind of man he is. The plans don’t always work, of course. I remember this one time in the 2015 world cup against UAE when I had told him not to play a particular shot against a bowler as it would be risky – he played that shot and got out. I was so angry! He walked right into the dressing room, approached me and said, “Maafi bhai!”.

Does he talk himself up ever? Never. I would say well played or what a great knock, and he would go, “God’s grace. Thanks to all you guys.” Or he would deflect what he had done by, “You know, Dale Steyn‘s 3 wickets were far better and more valuable than my knock.” I have not only seen him never angry but also not seen him proud even in private moments when he can let his guard down. Because he isn’t acting – that’s the way he is.

A memory from 2010, the year I met him first, would be perhaps apt. India was touring South Africa then and Hashim came to me and said, ‘can you help me? And I said you are at your peak, what can I help you with? Don’t pull my legs. “No no, I am serious,” he said. “No one is perfect. I loved your analysis in the last series. I want to learn and grow. This game is bigger than anyone. You can never think you got it all. I am fine with the pacers, do you have any suggestions on how to tackle Harbhajan Singh as he is bound to get bounced on these pitches.”

As the years went, we became close. Almost every night, he would come to my room, have a cup of tea, and discuss cricket or whatever was on his mind about him. Ask me about how I was feeling. I would miss all that now. He realized that I was missing my rice and rotis, and he would take me to his friends’ houses for dinners.

There is one more dinner story that I would like to share. It was in Bangalore in 2015 and rains had washed out four days’ play. I always stay at the team hotel only, even in the IPL I don’t go home but such was the weather during the Test that the team management told me to stay at home. I called Hashim and a couple of others to my home but the security team was worried about the security situation as I was living in an apartment block. So I left. That evening around 4.30 pm, I hear a knock and I see that Hashim has come home with Imran Tahir and a security guard. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t even have furniture to seat four people. Just a sofa. They walked in, Hashim saw my living room, and quietly sat on the floor. I protested and he said, “Bhai, I haven’t come to your home to check out its size. I have come for love. You are my brother. Please give me masala tea. He loved it and asked for one more cup!”

Hashim Amla is the only South African to score a Test match triple century. He also has the highest scores against England, India and the West Indies. (Reuters/files)

The 2019 World Cup didn’t go according to his expectations and at the end of it all, I told him that I have a request. Can I ask him something? “You have never asked me anything,” he said after a pause. “Tell me what you want, I will give.” I told him. “Don’t retire bhai!” He smiled and said, ‘I haven’t taken any call on it. All depends on what my heart says, then I leave it to god. Then I will follow it. It won’t be based on my interest. It’s team’s. So please don’t ask me this. I can’t give you that.”

There can be only one Hashim Amla. If my son even becomes 50% of Amla’s personality, I would be a proud dad. I haven’t seen anyone more humble or selfless and down to earth like him.

I remember sharing with him my wish, an image that I had in my mind. Hashim Amla retiring at home in Durban, walking out with his hands up in the air, acknowledging the cheers of the crowd. “I want that respect given to you. You deserve it” I should have known better because he replied. “As I have told you before, no one deserves anything. I have had my time, played 100 Tests. Ending after the World Cup is perfect, some youngsters can get the opportunity now. I would lose respect for myself if I hung around for a farewell. It’s not in the interest of the team and my country. I am content and grateful for what God has given me.”

(Prasanna Agoram was South Africa’s performance analyst).

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