Bangalore: I first spoke to Hashim Amla nearly eight years ago, a few days before his Test debut at Eden Gardens. At the time, no one was sure that he would play - South Africa had more than held their own in the drawn game in Kanpur - and there was a raised eyebrow from Gerald de Kock, the media manager, when I asked for some time. "Hashim?" he asked. "Not the usual suspects?"
To be honest, the idea wasn't mine. Greg Struthers, who cleaned up my copy most weeks for The Sunday Times, reckoned it would make a fascinating story. "If he does play, he'll be the first Asian to represent South Africa," he wrote to me. Then, there was that beard, quite unlike anything cricket had seen since the days of Dr. WG Grace.
The young man I met, though, was hardly in the good doctor's league when it came to self-regard. He was soft-spoken, articulate and incredibly earnest. The face may have been different, but there were times when I could have closed my eyes and imagined Rahul Dravid saying the same things. On a whim, before I'd even watched him bat properly, I decided that Amla was the real deal, that he merited a lengthy feature rather than a snippet.