2004 it was, when Hashim Amla first made an appearance for the South African national team. It took some time for him to become a regular in the side. Not just from a sporting perspective. In a country obsessed with stereotypes and racist comments, the Indian origin man with a long beard was not always welcome. In fact, he was the first Indian origin person to play a Test match for South Africa. But for Amla, it hardly mattered.
“I’m a father. I’m a son. I am a brother. I am a South African… with heritage from India. Those are just the simple things…” he had said.
It was in 2007 and the year following, that Amla stamped his authority with his bat.
That was when the best phase of his career would begin. Perhaps, one of the best phases to witness in World cricket.
A proud, spunky teenager came into limelight, at the same time, after leading his side to an U-19 World Cup victory. Virat Kohli made his ODI debut in the year that Hashim Amla had.
There was so much difference between the two. Yet, so much about them was similar.
The cacophony of a thousand trumpets being blown on one side and the calmness of Hashim Amla on the other. It was nowhere near Virat Kohli’s extravagant, expressive approach to the game. But when it came to scoring runs, both were equally hungry.
If runs were edible, Amla would be nothing less than a glutton. So would have been Kohli. Both began to succumb run making in 2008, that was scrumptious to watch throughout.
March 9, 2008, Amla made his ODI debut against Bangladesh. Kohli, in the same year, came into the race.
Two years and 40 innings later, Amla would go onto score 2000 runs in ODI cricket, the fastest to do so.
Next item on the plate was the 3000 run mark. Amla devoured it in another 17 innings. Again, the fastest in world cricket.
While it was still the starters being served, Amla was well ahead of Kohli in licking the plate clean.
Next delicacy on the menu was the 4000 run mark. It was just the beginning of 2013, when Kohli completed 4000 runs in 93 innings, falling behind Sir Vivian Richards by a mere five innings. 2013 was about to end when Amla, only in his 81st innings crossed the 4000 run mark in ODI cricket.
It was one of the most beautiful phases in World Cricket, when Hashim Amla used to hunt down the records set by Virat Kohli.
The hunger was just about to go up. It was as if the 2000, 3000 and 4000 run marks were appetizers. Real appetizers, not the tomato soup.
This time Kohli wanted to catch up on the West Indian great. In just another year, Kohli equaled Richards’s record of taking 114 innings to score 5000 runs. But Kohli could stay on top for just over a year. Amla, once again, did it in 13 innings fewer. Playing 101st innings in his 104th match, Amla proved more gluttonous than Kohli.
It took both of them 22 more innings to score another 1000. In 2014, Kohli had set the record for the fastest to reach the 6000 run mark in ODIs by beating Viv Richards. But a year later, Amla beat the record by achieving it in 123 innings.
How many times did Amla beat Kohli? Okay! One more. The last one.
On May 29, 2017, Hashim Amla crossed the 7000 run mark in 150 innings, breaking Virat Kohli’s record by 11 innings.
When two people are so hungry for runs, isn’t this Hunger Games? For cricket lovers, it was a run making feast that was an ecstasy to the eye and a delicacy to devour.
It was one of the most beautiful phases in World Cricket, when Hashim Amla used to hunt down the records set by Virat Kohli. Nine years of a rivalry that each of the them probably didn’t notice, but the rivalry that set the standard for ODI cricket to come by.
Hashim Amla is still the fastest to 2000, 3000, 4000, 5000, 6000 and 7000 ODI runs in terms of innings taken.
In 2017, Kohli set the record for the fastest to reach 8000 ODI runs. Amla had a poor year in 2018. Probably his age was getting to him. He was dropped from the One day squad. But come the World Cup, South Africa needed him. Amla was 77 short of 8000 runs. He could once again beat Kohli. The stage was set. It couldn’t have been bigger. Amla from a few years back might be relishing the deliciousness of what was on offer. But he was already 36. His mind might still want it. But from a certain age, the body stops supporting you. Perhaps, he could no longer do it. If only Amla was a little younger. Cricket could have witnessed a few more years of joyous batsmanship.
Amla, on Thursday, announced his retirement, proud of what he has achieved, and acknowledging the fact that all good things must come to an end. He left behind a standard for not only South African cricket but also World cricket in the coming years to maintain. A standard he knew his body, at 36, could no longer keep up to.