Hashim Amla

With consecutive batting failures in his first six Test innings for the Proteas, Hashim Amla’s start in international cricket had all the hallmarks of a failed experiment. Perhaps worse, his batting technique — an unusual crouch with troubling pre-shot “trigger” — was widely deemed to be inadequate. The quiet Durbanite looked set to melt into obscurity. And he did. Briefly. “Not being successful at the start left me with many doubts,” recalls Amla. “You want to fulfil this idealistic career path that you’ve imagined. In reality, there aren’t many ‘happily ever after’ stories.” The “Silent Warrior” applied the stoic, unrelenting grit he is now famous for, rebuilding his form while captaining the Dolphins franchise. Although his technique looked more refined and, scoring runs as he was, even his critics began to warm to the “flaws”. His second chance in Proteas whites came against New Zealand in Cape Town in 2006. He opened with a dominant 149 in a drawn match, and suddenly the awkward technique was solid in defence, rapier in attack. Amla was back. His career since then suggests that there is such a thing as a “happily-ever-after” story. Surrounding the pinnacle of 311 not out against England at the Oval in 2012 (the first-ever triple century by a South African) are the fact that he has reached the top spot in both Test and ODI batting rankings, averaging well over 50 in both formats to become the fastest batsman ever to reach 3 000 runs in ODIs. Despite the aura of calmness people love about him, Amla insists it isn’t easy. “Very seldom do you get to the crease and feel comfortable or ‘in the zone’,” he says. “It’s hard to explain. I think it’s about not looking ahead and not looking behind, treating each ball with respect.” But if he’s pushed to look ahead: “Being part of a World Cup-winning team would be a major highlight.” — Ian Macleod