If all you know is aesthetics, the grace will still have caught you. Hashim Amla, rising from that feline crouch, weight shifting to his back foot like a sail filling with breeze, ball meeting bat a foot beneath the last wisps of his beard, then skipping away between point and cover. He was a South African batsman. But not like any we had seen before. In the early years of his career, there was Graeme Smith's grinding purposefulness, Herschelle Gibbs' brutalist hitting, and, at first drop, Amla. A person with wrists. The type that fetches spinners from way wide of off stump and sends a startled midwicket scrambling.
He was withdrawn, but never without presence. In retrospect, this is staggering. He had played alongside a roll-call of behemoths - Jacques Kallis the mountain, AB de Villiers the freak, Makhaya Ntini the tireless. Smith's jawline and Dale Steyn's throbbing facial veins could justify their own separate biopics. Amla had that beard, of course, and everything that went with it, but on the field he was staid. And yet, in not partaking in what sometimes became a testosterone melee, Amla blazed his own definitive trail. A patch of calm on rough seas. You never forgot he was there.
On tours of Asia, especially during that sublime South Africa run of away-series successes, Amla was a talisman, averaging 73.00 in a continent that vexed so many South Africa batsmen. But as talisman, his true value was outside the confines of a ground. Unlike bowlers, who might develop later on in life, batting "was almost complicated", Amla reasoned once, and so "you have got to have the good coaching and then the upbringing of batting". Amla was part of the very first post-Apartheid wave that breached the walls of privilege, gaining high-quality coaching and cricketing mentorship at Durban High School at a young age, when his brother Ahmed, older only by four years, and "definitely the better sportsman" in the family, missed out.
South Africa had not seen a batsman of Indian descent who consistently commanded a place in the national team before, and as any pioneer anywhere might sympathise, when Amla went to the middle he was not merely batting for his team, or for himself, but for the very idea that South Africa needs diverse representation in its national teams - a national debate that even now, for all the centuries Amla and others have piled up, and the wickets bowlers of colour have taken, has not stopped raging. He bore all that, without ever once appearing daunted by the weight, and along the way, was called a "terrorist" on air because of the deep faith he feels anchors him, and, oh, the beard. The most serene man on practically any cricket field, responded with barely a shrug. People make mistakes.
For years, though, Amla didn't. In the five years from 2010 and 2014, he averaged a monumental 65.62 in Tests, and scored South Africa's first triple-hundred, at The Oval in 2012. His ODI returns were in some ways even more staggering; he was the fastest to reach every 1000-run milestone from 2000 to 7000. In his greatest years, Amla made a fortress out of a high-risk batting style, playing away from the body with improbable deftness, flicking impossibly against the turn, though when the need arose, he defended as resolutely as any of his teammates. Amla, the sole stylist in the batting order, going to the trenches, looking weirdly effortless while doing this dirty work, and even more weirdly, never out of place.
That is until the last two years, which were not without joy, exactly, but which were markedly more laboured. He could never quite make it work for long enough. The averages, both in Tests and ODIs, retreated to under 50. Perhaps, as a colleague noted, the high-risk strokes he used to revel in had become a liability as eyesight and reflexes waned into his mid-30s.
That he has not breached the magic 10,000-run mark in any format might bother some, but not, you suspect, him. There was no thought to retire in one format to preserve himself in another. All the virtues that defined him in his career remain intact through his retirement - something few great players can claim. He is a burden to no one, just as nothing ever seemed a burden to him.
When it comes to Hashim Amla, if all you know is aesthetics, the grace may still have caught you. But there was grace in so much more.