In a rare interview, Amla opens up candidly on the “Lollygate” ball tampering issue, the delight at winning “The Treble” in Australia, why Vernon Philander is the new Jacques “Woogy” Kallis of the Proteas and shares his gut reaction on being labelled a “terrorist” once again ….
Why did you guys attend Friday’s press conference in unison and is it a sign of the spirit that is permeating within the team at the moment?
I think it is. As a team we really thought it was an off-side allegation (the ball tampering charge against captain Faf du Plessis).We thought it was joke and the fact that it has escalated the way it has, we actually can’t believe it.
At the beginning of the year you stepped down from the Test captaincy. Do you think your decision has been vindicated considering where the team is now?
I don’t have any doubt about what I decided to do. Thankfully, since then, in Test cricket we’ve got Vern (Philander) and Dale (Steyn) back, that was a big change in the team, you have quality bowlers back, as you saw in the New Zealand series. The team has also gone through a reformation on a few issues. We had camps to address a few issues and after the camps there has been a greater awareness. I am just glad that those camps have played a good, meaningful impact on the team.
Everyone speaks about these “camps”. What actually happened there?
The camps were a catalyst for most of the players to express their concerns over where we were as a team and to take ownership of that. We hadn’t had that for a few years. It was just to bring everybody to an awareness about what we desired for South African cricket in terms of the talent we have got, the personnel, the wonderful coaching staff we got. The camps were a catalyst to realise that and also a deeper understanding the impact of what each of us can bring to the team.
You mention the “wonderful coaching staff” of the Proteas, yet there have been reports of former players questioning the “intellectual capacity” of the team management recently. How do you feel about this?
Intellectual capacity, I don’t actually quite know what that means. But the coaching staff has been as good a coaching staff that I’ve had in all my years of playing. They may not be the big names that we’ve had before. But just thinking back, we had someone like Mickey Arthur who wasn’t an international player.
And neither would you have considered him a big name at that stage when he started coaching South Africa, yet we achieved many wonderful things under his guidance. Before that we had Corrie van Zyl, who played a couple of ODI’s, but also wasn’t a big name. So, I’ve never believed that you need an outstanding name. If the message is good and the message is clear, it can come from anybody and it is up to the players to be receptive to it. The coaching staff has been excellent in providing whatever the team needs.
Having been a part of each of the Proteas squads that have gone on to achieve “The Treble” of winning three series in a row here in Australia, where does this achievement rank?
Suddenly, in my mind, when we took that last wicket in Hobart it was an amazing feeling. There are not many people in their cricket careers that experience what we’ve managed to experience three times. If you ask cricketers around the world, there hasn’t been a team that has done that in over 20 years.
So, to be a part of that team three times is a wonderful feeling. Then you look at the backdrop of last season where we didn’t do well in India and we didn’t do well in England. Without a doubt it means even more because of the disappointments of last season to come here and to play the kind of cricket that we’ve played means a lot to me. But as a collective, as a team, for anybody who plays Test cricket it is one of the elixirs of Test cricket to come to Australia and to beat Australia.
Each previous tour to Australia it was back-to-the-wall cricket that saw you prosper. Did you ever think that you would dominate the Aussies like you have during this series?
It’s been a little surprising to be honest with you. We had prepared for the most difficult of circumstances. We prepared to be under huge pressure, to always stay in the fight, to give the first punch. Thankfully after the first day in Perth, it’s just been an upward curve for us. Every session has been a fighting session, where we’ve just put our front foot forward. Whereas the last time we’ve come here, it was about ups and downs, fighting back, nervous changerooms (laughs out loud). It’s been like that. To have done it the way we’ve done it, just with all the youngsters coming in and stepping up, the way KG (Kagiso Rabada) has bowled and taken on the responsibility of leading the attack in the absence of Dale.
But the real unsung hero of our bowling attack is Vernon. He’s an absolute professional. Sometimes you may look at the scoreboard and he’s not bowling that quickly, but someone mentioned to me the other day that Ricky Ponting said that Vern is the most difficult bowler he’s faced.
And you would consider Ricky Ponting as one of the best No 3’s to ever play the game. So, Vernon the way he’s bowled, the way he’s conducted himself in the team as a senior member. Even the way he’s batted. We joke around that when he plays a flick to the on-side he looks a bit like Jacques Kallis, so we call him ‘Woogy’ because he’s got the trigger movement of a Woogy. But he’s really the unsung hero, he got a fiver in the first innings to set it all up in Hobart. Everywhere we’ve been in the world, he’s held his own and he just showed what a quality cricketer he is.
The catching in the slip cordon was magnificent in Hobart. How has it improved so dramatically?
In the first game there we few that got palmed. (Laughs out loud) We won’t mention any names. (Laughs again) We have worked as hard as we can on our slip catching. If you look at last few years before you found myself, Dean (Elgar) and Faf (du Plessis) in the slips, and obviously AB when he’s back he fits into the slips as well.
But before that you had two of the best in the world in Kallis and (Graeme) Smith. I’d like to think that they were ‘natural slippers’ because they had big hands, they were big gentleman.
They caught amazing catches. They had the position for a long time and now over the last two or three years that we had a different slip cordon, we’ve obviously had to put a lot of work in. We are trying to get better and better in training sessions and challenge ourselves. We’re also very happy with the hard work JP (Duminy) has put into his gully catching. He picked three/four catches the other day and one was an absolute screamer. It has paid off at crucial times.
How desperately do the Proteas want to be the first team to whitewash Australia 3-0 in a home Test series?
The guys are very excited and pumped up for it. I think when we were 3-0 up in the ODI series, the word got around that it could be history if go 5-0. That really motivated the guys. Certainly there is that sense sometimes when the series is over, you got the trophy in the bag, but knowing there was a historical aspect to it, it rejuvenated us. It’s the same here. We know there is a possible historical aspect to it and the guys will certainly be going for it.
Are you looking forward to the pink ball Test in Adelaide next week?
I am looking forward to it. My biggest concern initially was that the New Zealanders and Australians found the ball very difficult to see. My immediate hesitation wasn’t for the top six/seven batsmen. It was actually for the tailenders.
If the top-order found it difficult to see, can you imagine a No 10/11 facing Dale Steyn, Rabada, Morkel … And there’s no dangerous play to come off the field because it is under lights. So, my concern was them. Other than I am really excited to play because as the first South African team to play a day-night Test too, that’s exciting.
What was your gut reaction to the graffiti that branded you a “terrorist” during the Hobart Test?
My initial reaction was 'here we go again' because sadly it (racial profiling) has happened before to other players and myself on previous tours to Australia. After giving it some thought I figured we are all merely guests in this world. All invited. At some point you get guests that may misbehave and do things that are inappropriate… and listen nobody, including myself, is immune from this, but it's just that some may be a bit extreme.
The key is how we deal with each other. When an inconvenience like this is done to me by another guest- for whatever reason, I am happy to let the Host handle the situation. After all - if this type of unpleasant behaviour or attitude is in me, then I have to rectify it immediately because this is what I have learnt from Islam.
And if those behaviours and attitudes are found in others then it's best for me to be patient and forgiving. As far as I'm concerned this incident is over and I truly don't have more to say. Thankfully Cricket Australia, the authorities and the police acted in a swift manner and have dealt with the issue. My current focus is on the exciting Test series on hand.
Two young players of Indian origin have joined the Proteas squad for his Australian series. Has it been easier for them to acclimatise to the team culture than it was perhaps for you a decade ago?
It certainly is much easier for the guys. It has been for the last three/four years for any youngster to come into the team. I would like to think it is a good environment for any new player to come into.
A guy can be 19-years-old or 30 years old and it is an environment that if someone comes into the circle of the Proteas family that they are immediately welcomed. And yes, there’s always the individual pressure they will feel to perform. But from a team perspective, whether they perform or not, they are welcome. That is a big consolation for anyone coming into the team to know his teammates back him.
So, finally what does Hashim Mahomed Amla still want to achieve in his career?
There’s no doubt that as a Test player and team you just want to win as much can. Obviously in ODI cricket you want to win a World Cup. It’s in 2019, but that’s what I would like to work towards to.
Independent MediaIndependent Media’s cricket writer Zaahier Adams, who is Down Under covering the Proteas Test tour, sat down exclusively with Hashim Amla.
Original source: #ZaahierinOZ: Exclusive Q&A with Hashim Amla