At Eden’s Theatre of Dreams, Hashim Amla nearly pulled off a miracle with his marathon 8-hour batting effort and almost spoilt India’s quest to retain their Numero Uno status in the ICC team rankings for Test playing nations.
Harbhajan Singh, though pulled a bunny out of the hat as he removed number eleven Morne Morkel after the spineless Indian bowling attack in the absence of the injured Zaheer Khan, had toiled for 20 overs without managing to see the back of the last South African batting pair.
Had the Proteas managed to hold on for a couple of overs more, it would have been catastrophe for the Indians as it would have not only taken away the number one Test ranking and given a scar of losing a rare home series, but also the long term impact of such a demoralizing victory cannot even be imagined. The top spot surely would not have come back knocking at least for a few more seasons, especially considering the extreme paucity of Test cricket facing the Indian team and the present destructive form that former number one Australia are in.
However, all is well for now and we can breathe easy for a few more days.
After the end of the third day’s play of the Kolkata Test, the South Africans seemed dead and buried with two full days to survive and over 340 runs behind on the Indians’ first innings total. Journalists and statisticians had already begun to scratch their heads, trying to think of a perfect title to exhibit India’s crushing victory. But the rain gods at one end and Hashim Amla at the other had different plans.
Although the rain went away after traumatizing the home team and taking away a few crucial overs off the match, Amla didn’t.
A man on a mission and without showing any emotion, whether it was the loss of wickets - one after the other at the other end, or reaching a well deserved hundred; he successfully took on the Indian bowlers and countered everything thrown at him. By the closing hours on the final day of the Kolkata Test, it looked utterly impossible that any of the Indian bowlers had what it took to get past the rock solid defense of this iron man of cricket.
It gives one the shivers to even imagine what dent the fans and team’s psyche would have received had the Proteas been successful in conquering the final frontier at Kolkata. Indian cricket would probably have needed a few years to get out of the Amla shock that almost struck them at Eden.
The only other instance one can think of that had such a calamitous impact on Indian cricket was the last ball six that Javed Miandad had hit off Chetan Sharma in the final of the Sharjah Cup at in 1986. Some say that Indian cricket has still not managed to fully recover from the shock received that day.
Interestingly, Miandad and Amla have other things in common than just their religion or the above mentioned similarity. While both trace their roots to the Indian state of Gujarat (Miandad’s parents migrated to Pakistan from Ahmedabad while Amla’s grandparents moved to South Africa from Surat), both scored their first Test ton against the Kiwis. Incidentally, they also have siblings, who play domestic cricket for their respective countries.
Though Amla can also be looked up as an ideal human being and a perfect ambassador for his country, what he displayed at the Eden was nothing, but true batsmanship and the art of text book batting in the days of big hitting slam-bang cricket.
From being termed as a quota player and facing criticism for the flaws in his technique to being dropped from the Test team and jokingly called a terrorist, this, one of the last remaining ‘true batsman’ in world cricket has seen it all in his short, but fruitful Test career so far.