Hashim Amla and the South African Race Conundrum

Posted on December 28, 2010 by

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Hashim Amla - The Zen Cricketer

The first time I saw Hashim Amla play, I knew there was something special about him. His presence was overwhelming, his aura captivating and his talent, undeniable.

Since then, Amla has gone on to set the Test cricket arena alight.

What makes Amla unique, though, is not his exquisite style of play or his illuminating talent; it’s the way in which he conducts himself that makes him one of the greatest cricketers to ever play for South Africa.

Entertainers have been part of the South African cricket set up for years. Fanie de Villiers had a mind of his own and Herschelle Gibbs racked up more controversy than many of us can dream of, but in a world where egos triumph and brash attitudes set the standards for what we consider an entertaining cricketer, Amla has proven that nice guys can sometimes make it to the top and do just as well and be just as popular as the bad boys we love to hate.

He is a man who stands up for what he believes in and as a believer in the Muslim faith, he proved this when he appealed against having a team sponsor, an alcohol brand, embroidered on his kit. However, there was no big hoo-hah or toys thrown when Amla opposed it, no fireworks or arguments, just pure grounded class. Castle Lager accepted his request and Amla does not carry the logo on any of his South African apparel.

While this might seem like a small act, it’s massively significant to South Africa and for a country that’s still trying to overcome its own vast differences. People can take a leaf from Amla’s book and learn that an agreement can be reached without resorting to disrespect, something which is an innate struggle in modern South Africa.

As with most cricketers, Amla copped a fair bit of flack when he started out. It was said that he wouldn’t have the temperament for one-day cricket and that he wouldn’t handle the pressure of the international Test arena, but this Durbanite has stuck it to each and every critic and he has done it in a manner that is so elegant, it makes you wish there were cricket awards for class.

With all the talent and class in the world, Amla would be the logical choice to succeed Graeme Smith and even though he has experience in captaining a side, he will probably never have the honour of being handed the armband for the Proteas.

In a country still rife with racial tension and diversity, Amla is probably too white to be black and not black enough to ever captain the country.

It’s a conundrum of epic proportions. While Amla might fit the quotas required by those who call the shots, he does not fit the image of transformation and if a player of colour were to ever captain the national side, the powers that be would much rather see a black man at the helm.

Cricket has always been a white man’s sport in South Africa and in a country still choked by its biblically inhumane racial history, for Amla to be crowned South African captain would just hit too hard for those who are campaigning for transforming the sport.  It’s a bit of a Catch 22.

To truly understand this thought process and just how deep this rabbit hole goes, one has to dig very deep in to South Africa’s history. This is, however, no place for history lessons.  All that needs to be said is that South Africa is a very diverse country, enriched with a variety of different cultures and tricky politics. We are a country that’s still trying to figure out exactly who we are and just how this plethora of cultures can live together in peace without harbouring hostility for what happened in the past.

Therefore,  should he be awarded the armband, it would herald one of the most significant times in South African history, more significant than Chester Williams’ inclusion in the 1995 World Cup squad or Makhaya Ntini’s 100th Test cap.

Why? Simply because Amla is more than a cricket player, he is more than a role model, Amla is the embodiment of what every modern South African should strive to achieve and while we might not all be able to score Test hundreds, we can all learn from The Bearded one’s compassion, calmness, especially in what would be considered volatile situations, but most of all, we can learn that it is possible to succeed, even when all the odds are stacked against you.

Amla is one of the few players who have the ability to unite cricket fans across South Africa, no matter their race. Everyone can relate to Amla and everyone can salute him for the tremendous impact he has had on the game.

Ho, hum, Amla. I salute you.

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Guest Article by Ant Sims

Ant is a South African who has been watching cricket since she was in her mother’s womb. A keen backyard cricketer, who never made it further than number three ranked street cricketer, Ant  has a deep love for the sport and is very interested  in the psychology of if. Especially how ordinary people relate to cricketers on a level deeper than sheer admiration and how sport has the ability to unite people from all walks of life. When she is not blabbering on the award winning blog Paddle Sweep or ranting on Twitter, she’s usually talking to her dog or moaning about Arsenal’s defence.