I'm sorry, critic tells Amla

14 February 2010 - 02:00 By Teneshia Naidoo and Tristan Holme

A cricket fan who once called South African batsman Hashim Amla a "spoilt brat new kid" has made peace with the Proteas star with a letter of apology.

Former SA Breweries employee Matt Botha posted the letter on retired rugby player Bobby Skinstad's blog last month, explaining that Amla's refusal to wear the company's Castle logo had spark- ed his resentment.

"I quickly chose the side of the company that had recently adopted me and immediately took a dislike to this spoilt brat new kid who refused to wear the logo that had made it possible for him to be where he was," he said.

He admitted that he also thought Amla, who scored his first international double century in the Test against India in Nagpur last week, was not in the team on merit.

Amla was granted permission by SAB not to wear the logo because it was against Islamic practice to consume or be associated with alcohol.

In his letter, Botha said he felt the need to apologise, as "it has been sitting on my shoulders for some time".

He said he joined SAB in 2003 and was employed in the marketing department until 2006, where he was responsible for handling major sporting events, including rugby and cricket Tests.

In 2004 he found himself in a dilemma when Amla made the request, and he suggested to his friends that they write to Cricket South Africa to give Amla an ultimatum to either wear the logo or pay for his own flights and accommodation.

After SAB had granted Amla permission not to wear the logo, Botha said he waited for him "to fail while passing derogatory comments".

"The quicker we could rid our team of this problem, the better. How wrong I was," he wrote on the blog.

"Fortunately, through watching you so closely (for the wrong reasons at first), I have enjoyed the privilege of being witness to the blossoming career of a humble, inspirational and talented young man. Your attitude both on and off the field is truly a lesson to every young sportsman and woman, and your sportsmanship is unparalleled. Umpires around the world will verify this. Thank you for being an inspiration to us and for providing our wonderful country with a true South African hero."

He expressed a wish to meet the player and shake his hand over a "beer ... err, sorry, Coke".

Amla's agent, Ismail Kajee, said that he saw the letter and made contact with Botha to arrange a meeting.

Kajee said the two met at a Durban coffee shop three weeks ago. "It takes courage to write something like this. We were amazed to meet a guy who could say that he used to think one thing and now thinks a different way. It is impressive. Matt deserves all the credit. He is a wonderful chap," said Kajee.

Amla said: "We just had some coffee together to chat about general things. There were some kind words in it, and I thanked him for them."

Amla said he couldn't understand criticism that he wasn't appointed on merit.

"I really couldn't understand what the guys were on about, because I was the leading run-scorer in domestic cricket and, regardless of the colour of your skin, with that sort of form, you would warrant a call-up to the national team.

"So I didn't think anything of it. If some people have that sort of feeling in their hearts, then it's between them and their Creator, so it doesn't have an impact on my general view."

Botha told the Sunday Times Extra this week that when he wrote the letter, he did not intend anyone else to read it except Amla, but he posted it on the blog because he knew it would reach him.

"A couple of years ago I had a very scathing attitude towards him, and it showed how ignorant I was towards him and to his beliefs. It showed how naive I was in my understanding."

"Looking back at it is such a revelation. I am so relieved I had the opportunity to learn a lesson like that and, just watching him play, my respect for him has grown immensely."

Botha said the meeting with Amla was very cordial. "It wasn't uncomfortable. He made me feel so at home. We didn't chat about cricket or about the letter. We chatted about old schooldays. I got up from the meeting and thought, 'Thank goodness I wrote the letter.'"