London Evening Standard
Given the chaos surrounding English cricket, there are few people who believe Australia will be handing over the Ashes at the end of this summer.
Peter Moores was sacked last week after England could only draw 1-1 against a West Indies side labelled “mediocre” by incoming ECB chairman Colin Graves before the three-match series. Clearly, the task for whoever is head coach come the first Ashes Test in Cardiff on July 8 is huge.
However, South Africa captain Hashim Amla does not think the tourists will get an easy ride.
“I can see England doing well against Australia,” says the man leading the world’s top Test team. “With a lot more bowler-friendly conditions in England, hopefully, it will be a good series. At the top of cricket it is us and Australia but England at home are quite a good team. To win they will have to bat well and do well in all the disciplines. Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad are still very good bowlers and both have troubled me at different times.
“Anderson has done better over a longer period of time. The conditions in England certainly suit him and his style of swinging the ball. A wonderful swing bowler, in the last few years, he has certainly been one of the top seam bowlers in the world along with Dale Steyn, Mitchell Johnson, Vernon Philander. Broad is a little different. He has pace and produces great spells.”
So how good are Michael Clarke’s Australia who won 2-1 in South Africa last year, a result that saw Graeme Smith retire? “They are a good team. It’s a bit early to tell if they are as good as the team under Ricky Ponting. Then they had Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath, the two outstanding bowlers of their generation. Johnson is a different type of bowler to McGrath. McGrath bowled more in the good areas [and had spells of]: 10 overs, seven runs, a couple of wickets. Johnson is a bit more attacking.”
Smith’s exit after that series led to Amla becoming the country’s first permanent non‑white captain. During almost half a decade of apartheid, players such as Basil D’Oliveira had to leave South Africa to fulfil their dreams.
“We definitely think about the changes,” says the 32-year-old Amla. “During apartheid, there were non‑white cricketers in our community who were exceptional.
“D’Oliveira was one of them. He did very well in England. But many people acknowledge that he wasn’t even the best. There were other cricketers better than him who didn’t come over and that tells you the quality of the non-white cricketers.
“My parents lived in [segregated] areas. My father, who is a doctor, never played because it was apartheid and there was no future in cricket. My brother, who is three and a half years older than me, bore the legacy apartheid left. Without a doubt, my brother was more talented than me. He worked hard. But I remember watching him and seeing things unfold, thinking this is a bit weird.”
When I ask what he means, Amla refuses to expand, only saying: “It’s not like you change the law and everybody says immediately, ‘oh, okay, it was wrong’.”
He then adds: “I didn’t experience a lot of the effects of apartheid which my parents and the generation before did. I practised on wonderful facilities at Kingsmead in Durban, which was not the case for the previous generation in my community. I was fortunate.”
His rise to the top, though, has not been straightforward. Having made his debut in 2004, he was dropped after a few months when he averaged just nine in two Tests against England. It required a couple of centuries against New Zealand in 2006 before he cemented his place in the side.
That year also saw a notorious incident when South Africa were playing a Test against Sri Lanka. As Amla took a catch, Ten Sports commentator Dean Jones, not realising the microphone was on, said: “The terrorist gets another wicket.”
Amla has never spoken about this attempt to stereotype him but now tells me: “Nobody feels nice when called a terrorist. Sure it was a terrible thing to say. He apologised.
“As a Muslim, when somebody makes a mistake then apologises, it’s over and done with and you move on.”