Hashim Amla's Importance to South Africa

Jon GemmellCorrespondent IFebruary 13, 2010

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JANUARY 13:  Hashim Amla of South Africa after his batting session during nets at the Bidvest Wanderers Stadium on January 13, 2010 in Johannesburg, South Africa.  (Photo by Duif du Toit/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
Gallo Images/Getty Images

At six for two, the South Africans looked to be in trouble on the first morning of their first Test in India.

However, a partnership of 340 between two rock-solid stalwarts of the sport demoralised and humiliated their opponents, whilst providing a platform of monolithic proportions to win the encounter comfortably.

Of South Africa’s 558-6, Hashim Amla batted for 11 hours for an undefeated 253.

A quiet and unassuming character on the field of play, his role for the side lies beyond his abundant aptitude with the bat, but has social connotations as well, more so with the inevitable retirement of Makhaya Ntini.

Amla is the first cricketer of Indian descent to play for South Africa.

Brought up in Tongaat, a town north of Durban with a 90 percent Indian population, he played in all-Asian cricket teams until the age of 13.

He progressed through schoolboy ranks, making his first-class debut for Kwa-Zulu Natal at the age of 16 against the English tourists and captained South Africa at the Under-19 World Cup in 2002.

The Amla presence in South Africa stems from a grandfather who migrated in 1927 from Surat alongside many fellow Indians who came to work as farm labourers.

His father was born in 1950 into a world of segregation that since its demise has presented opportunities to those historically deprived due to the colour of their skin.

Amla made his international debut in India in 2004, but was found wanting against the England pace attack in the following series and was dropped. He marked his return in New Zealand with 149 and has since become an established member of the side.

His presence in the team has raised a few eyebrows. He sports a beard of WG Grace proportions and is open about his Muslim beliefs, to the extent of refusing to sport sponsors' logos that promote alcohol.

There were those who argued that his place in the national team was a consequence of political correctness and that there are better players.

A look at the statistics of some of these players suggests otherwise. Boeta Dippenaar (38 Tests at 30), Neil McKenzie (58 Tests at 42) and Jacques Rudolph (35 Tests at 36) have each been given a run in the side and failed to establish themselves.

The 26-year old Amla (42 Tests at 44) has now seized his opportunity and put distance between himself and the pretenders.

Amla considers himself as South African with proud Indian roots and at home still maintains some of the customs and traditions that were carried to South Africa by his grandfather.

His fused identity is symbolic of a young nation forging national unity amid an array of ethnic diversity.

That cricket has been chosen as a stage on which this process will be played out is controversial, drags politics into the mix but is also a great honour and signal of its popularity among all South Africa’s population groups.