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Amla stumped by cricket passion in India

Published: Wednesday, December 1, 2004, 16:22 [IST]
 
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Kolkata:Hashim Amla came to India hoping to soak in the country's rich culture. Instead, he was stumped by its passion for cricket.

The first cricketer of Indian origin to represent South Africa in Tests, the 21-year-old made his debut in front of his proud father at the Eden Gardens this week.

"The craze for the game here is unbelievable," said the middle-order batsman, whose grandfather migrated from the western Indian state of Gujarat in 1927.

"It's wonderful to see so many people come out to watch the game. I'd love to embrace the culture here, but unfortunately this is not a long tour. This is my first trip to India. Though I had heard a lot about the country from my relatives and friends, getting an actual feel of the place is the real thing."

Amla, a devout Muslim with a flowing beard, prohibits the use of liquor logos on his cricket gear due to religious beliefs. This despite the South African team being sponsored by a beer company.

Amla caught the selectors' eye after giving a good account of himself in domestic matches and then for the South African under-19 and 'A' sides.

The right-hander batted his way into the national squad after hammering four centuries in eight innings in domestic competition. He is already being hailed as a future South African captain.

"It is too early to think about captaincy. But it's an honour to play for the country and I'm every inch a South African," said Amla.

His elevation as captain of the Kwazulu-Natal side at such a young age bears testimony to the faith the selectors have in him.

"I have not set any long-term goals but hope to prove myself," said Amla, whose elder brother also plays first-class cricket in South Africa.

With an average of over 50 in domestic cricket, Amla hopes to return to the country of his origin again and visit the state of his grandfather.

"It will be an experience of a lifetime to visit Surat (in Gujarat) where our family hails from. That will have to wait for another time but I am dying to get back to India," he said.

His only regret on the Indian tour was spending the Eid festival away from home.

"The Eid is best spent at home, but being a cricketer one has to adjust to these things," he said.

"This was not the first time that I had played during the festival and surely there will be a lot many Eids away from home. As of now, cricket gets top priority."

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