High on confidence

2009-02-13 00:00

AFTER a series to treasure Down Under, Hashim Amla can hardly wait for the Aussies to arrive for the return series at the end of the month.

Amla was one of several Proteas stars on tour, his positive stroke-making at number three earning rave reviews from Channel Nine’s commentators.

So what does the man himself make of all the plaudits, the team’s successes, their popularity throughout their stay and the thumbs-up for his “refined” technique.

“To be honest, my technique has not changed much,” Amla said in the aftermath of the Dolphins’ final Pro20 round-robin match against the Lions.

“A lot of people have said my backlift has changed, but if it has, it was certainly not a conscious decision. I, and those who know my game well, decided to just back my natural game and the results over the last year have been amazing.”

Indeed, Amla went from budding talent to classy enforcer in 2008, his centuries in India and at Lord’s cementing his place in the crucial position of three.

This, coupled with a top six in fine form, has resulted in a side confident in its ability.

“I think we have built up a lot of experience over the last two years, with a nice mix of youth to add to the core of guys like Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher and Makhaya Nitni,” he said.

The upshot of a settled side has seen Graeme Smith’s young team reach levels previously unknown to the national side.

A series win in India was only halted by a dustbed in the final Test, but history was made with the 2-1 triumph in England.

But even that was put in the shade by the colossal achievements in Australia, which earned them the respect of a nation that is notoriously hard to please.

“I think after that first Test in Perth, when we chased down 414, we got the respect of the public. There had been a lot of hype before we arrived, and when we started as well as we did, people gave us a lot more respect.”

The triumph in Perth also marked the introduction to Test cricket of one JP Duminy.

“I think JP’s stunning performances also justified Mickey Arthur’s planning for the last few years. He built a squad with depth, and everyone in it was ready to step up if needed.”

Amla dazzled at times in the Test series, but was disappointed by not defining his series with a big score.

“It was frustrating obviously from a personal perspective, but I think when measured up against our success as a team, I was more than happy to just contribute to a great win.”

Amla also had the distinct honour of being at the crease when both the Test and one-day series were sealed.

“To be there when you win a series as important as this is massive, and I think everyone in the team wanted to be out there at the finish,” he cheekily noted.

“Seriously, though, it was one of those moments that you treasure forever because it is really just down to luck.”

The successful one-day series was another important statement by the Proteas, especially after their meek surrender in England last year.

“The way we ended the England tour was very disappointing, so we were very keen to end on the right note this time,” Amla said.

He also grew into the role of opener in the shorter format, proving a perfect foil to Herschelle Gibbs’s human tornado at the other end.

“I think batting with a guy like Hersch suits me as I was able to knock it around and let him do what he does so well.”

Amla ended the one-day series in some style, with 82 not out in Adelaide and then 97 in the final match in Perth.

“I missed out on a ton there too, but, like I said, everything happens for a reason and I will just have to try for a big one here,” he said.

The Aussies are in unfamiliar territory, playing as underdogs and with a wealth of experience missing from their line-up. Not that they will be pushovers, of course.

“Certainly, we are expecting them to come hard at us and we are expecting a tough two months.”

The Proteas will usurp Ricky Ponting’s team as the top Test team if they win the home series by any margin, but Amla cautions that there is a long way to go before Smith’s men can be compared to the champion Australian sides led by Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh.

“We have just had one good year, so it is a long way to go before we are mentioned alongside teams that dominated for a decade,” he points out.

“Besides, we are not looking at things in that way. One of the best aspects under Mickey is the way he has taught us to take one match at a time, and not think too far ahead.”

For now, though, Amla will have domestic duty on his mind as he looks to propel the KZN Dolphins to the finals of the Pro20 Series.

“It’s great to be back playing for the Dolphins, and it was fantastic to see the large turnout against the Lions.”

The return of his team-mates to their franchises has lifted the tempo, but Amla is confident in the KZN side’s ability.

“We played good cricket against the Lions and we have a star of our own returning in Sanath [Jayasuriya]. People like him come into their own in big matches, so we will certainly be backing ourselves to do well,” he said.

The domestic tussle is likely to produce some thrills, but, like Amla, the whole country is ticking off the days before February 26 and the renewal of battle against the baggy greens.

“Obviously SA cricket is at a good place right now, and it is down to us to try and replicate our performances from Australia in front of our own supporters,” said Amla.

If they do, then crowds around the country are set for an almighty scrap. One can hardly wait.

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