DURBAN – Zubayr Hamza is a creature of habit. As quiet and assuming as he may appear, the Cape Cobras star is a man with a sponge for a brain, and eyes that are on permanent clicking mode.
“I’ve been stealing with my eyes,” Hamza said of his time in the South African team so far.
He was part of the squad for the entire Test series against Pakistan, eventually getting his chance in the final Test at the Wanderers.
Some have argued against the wisdom of keeping a player in the squad for extended periods, when he could be getting match practice.
The most famous of South African apprentices was JP Duminy, who waited and waited and waited before Melbourne happened upon him.
So Hamza is in good company, then. And it is not as if he is complaining about sitting quietly in the corner of the dressing-room, soaking it in.
“I think that time allowed me to be comfortable in that environment. I have just been listening to everything, and I have picked something up from every batsman in the squad,” he said.
Hamza still retains that glow in the eye, that unmistakable glint of a man who has just seen his dreams come true. When he looks back at his 41 against Pakistan, there is a refreshing giggle. It was fun, as crazy and pressurised an environment as it was.
“I didn’t have the butterflies until I had to walk down those long steps of ‘The Bullring’. Then it sunk in,” Hamza said.
He had his family in tow, beaming on from the Long Room, as he became the 100th Test cap since re-admission.
There were enough signs in that knock of his to suggest that he belongs at this esteemed level. The late cut, the authoritative pull, the drives… the kid can play. And yet, there is reverence when he speaks of the senior players, and a glowing assessment of their ability to perform on the stage.
That is because of all he has picked up, slinging off their experience.
“That has been the biggest thing for me, understanding just how much focus is required at this level,” Hamza said.
He also credits others who have moulded him on his journey to this point in his career.
“I think all my coaches through the ranks, from Mr Davids at Western Province, to Ashwell Prince at the Cobras, and Russell Domingo in the SA A side, they have all given me something that has improved my game.”
As a batsman, Hamza lives for time in the middle. His double century against the Dolphins in Pietermaritzburg was a personal highlight, because it proved to himself that he had the hunger to go on and on.
Some of that grit, he explains, has come from observing the likes of Pieter Malan at the Cobras.
“The way he approaches his innings, when he had to graft,” Hamza said. “I remember when we played the Dolphins at Newlands, and he and (Vernon) Philander had a big partnership. Just watching the way they handled that situation, and applied themselves for the team, that was a big lesson for me.”
The humility that moulds him may well be what helps him be the player that he eventually becomes.
“I have learnt not to get too far ahead of myself,” Hamza said, as talk shifts to the team selection for the opening Test against Sri Lanka.
Hamza will make runs for SA for a long time. That much is clear.
So, if he has to wait a while, as a few legends finish off, he will be fine with that.
In the meantime, he will soak all of it in.
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