South Africa's Hashim Amla. Picture: REUTERS/JAMES OATWAY
South Africa's Hashim Amla. Picture: REUTERS/JAMES OATWAY

Having dodged a bullet in Brisbane thanks to a Jacques Kallis century and the loss of a day to rain, and then survived a barrage of gunfire in Adelaide where Faf du Plessis batted throughout the final day for a debut hundred in the company of AB de Villiers, SA arrived at the WACA ground in Perth confident their fortunes would change.

It was November 30, 2012, and Graeme Smith won the toss on a Perth “belter”. It was a grudge series alright with Smith having become the first SA captain to win a series on Australian soil four years earlier. Michael Clarke, having scored a double century in the opening Test and in the form of his life, was not going to let it happen again.

Just before lunch on the first day the Proteas were 75/6 and the locals were convinced there would be no escape this time. Even when Du Plessis (78) added half-century partnerships with Robin Peterson and Vernon Philander to heave the total to 225, it looked well below par. The Aussies had this one, you felt. Most of us felt, anyway. It was Ricky Ponting’s final Test, fairy-tale ending, and all that.

Except, whereas SA had been 75/6, Australia were 45/6, Dale Steyn took 4/40 and they were bowled out for just 163 to concede a shocking but not unmanageable lead of 62. It had been a remarkable Test match up to that point, but it was only a fraction of what came next, on day two.

Smith and Hashim Amla destroyed Australia’s bowling attack with such speed it was literally eye-watering. Whereas Smith’s innings resembled a frenzied axe-attack, Amla played a glorious sequence of classic and clinical shots — but to all the wrong deliveries.

Australia’s pair of snarling left-arm Mitchells, Johnson and Starc, lost all control and let both batsmen know exactly what they thought of them. Smith loved it, Amla appeared not to notice and continued to flick deliveries from a foot outside off-stump through mid-wicket and cut deliveries aimed at his ribs through point.

At first glance it was easy to assume that Johnson and Starc were were bowling rubbish but, on closer inspection, it was similarly possible to believe that Amla really did know where they were going to bowl each delivery. For about an hour in the middle of his innings he elevated the art of batting to the highest level it has been taken. He was a neurosurgeon dissecting a carcass in an abattoir.

The two batsmen added 178 runs together in 25 overs. If it looked like they were trying to outdo each other, it was because they were.

“We lost a bit of control for a while there,” Smith joked some days later. “It was all I could do to keep up with Hash, but he was in a different class.”

When the captain departed for 84 from just 100 balls, Amla appeared to emerge from the fearless hypnosis which had gripped them while they were scoring at eight runs to the over and he coasted to the close of play on 99 not out. The following day he reached his century from just 87 balls.

When De Villiers arrived at the crease on 287/3 there was still plenty of meat on the carcass and he did what was expected of him, sharing another 149 runs with Amla who was by then picking off boundaries in the manner a lecturer might point out important parts of an essay to students.

The Mitchells were silent, the game was gone and there was but a tiny prospect of saving the series.

But SA were not to be denied, Steyn (3/72) once again leading the way as the hosts were dismissed for 322 to lose by a whopping 309 runs. There were half a dozen outstanding individual performances in the contest but it was instructive that nobody had any doubt that Amla was the man of the match for his 196 from 221 balls. It had been, just for a while, otherworldly. Like when a seasoned art collector sees a painting for the first time which takes his breath away.

He provided many moments to choose from when selecting your favourite, but that’s the innings which comes straight to mind when remembering Hashim Amla. A batsman’s best innings are like fingerprints: all unique, even when there are as many as he has.

The unbeaten 311 at The Oval, the hundreds in India, all the ODI runs. None can compare with that day-and-a-half at the WACA.

We’ll miss him. Far more than we know now.