Record-breaking Amla puts SA firmly in control
Hashim Amla has become the first South African to pass the 300 mark in Test cricket, and a cunning declaration from Graeme Smith has poised the team for an epic conclusion to the test. By ANT SIMS.
Hashim Amla became the first South African to pass the 300 mark in Test cricket, as the visitors took England by the scruff of the neck and carried them out the back door on day four at The Oval.
Amla’s knock, which took over 13 hours, set the foundation for South Africa to build towards a mammoth 637-2 before declaring, at tea, the lead on 252. Amla, who has averaged over 65 over the last two years, has remained modest about his feat.
“I’m happy, surprised and really excited to have done something which has never been done by a South African before, but the biggest joy is that we are in such a good position. We’re in a position to win this Test,” said Amla.
Amla was dropped on 40 when he edged through the slips off Ravi Bopara, and Andrew Strauss fluffed the catch. At the time, it looked like the only flaw of his entire knock, but the 29-year-old insists fortune favoured him.
“In any innings, you will go through a time where fortune is going to favour you. There were a few other instances too, just none of them that were as exposed as the dropped catch. I’m just really happy things worked out the way they did,” said Amla.
In the supporting role of South Africa’s star performance was Jacques Kallis, who batted equally well, making his way to a tremendous 182 in over seven hours. The Proteas’ batsmen became an immovable elephant which England couldn’t even get rid of one bite at a time. For a team which was criticised as being undercooked, the visitors exceed all expectations.
Another man who exceeded all expectations was Graeme Smith. His declaration at tea was extraordinary and incredibly brave for somebody whose trademark is being over-cautious. It showed tremendous intent from Smith and South Africa – they came to England to win and they would dictate the terms they won on. It’s something last seen during their tour of Australia in 2008, when they beat Australia in their own backyard. South Africa have more than made up for all the intensity and hostility they lacked on day one. Since walking out on day two, they have been spitting venom and they have raised the bar for how the series is going to be played.
Smith backed his bowlers to put in a good performance in the final session and they did, bagging four English scalps before the close of play.
“We saw the wicket was good to bat on and we thought that having more time to bowl made sense and we could bat again if we need to,” said Amla.
South Africa are just six wickets away from becoming the architects of one of the most extraordinary victories in Test cricket. The ball has tended to move and swing in the mornings, but bright sunshine is forecast for Monday, so there might not be all that much assistance for the bowlers.
“As we have seen through this Test, so much will depend on that first session tomorrow morning. Our bowlers are definitely up for it. There is quite a bit of rough, so hopefully Imran (Tahir) can play a big role and do some damage,” Amla said.
The South African bowlers will have to hold their lines and length with surgical precision and Imran Tahir will have to keep cool and use his variations.
After a languid start to the tour, the match is now poised to reach an epic conclusion, and there is a chance for South Africa to send a clear message to England.
Key moments, day four – The Oval
For so long, Hashim Amla has been the mainstay silent warrior in the South African batting line-up, and he added another achievement to his already bulging honours list when he became the first South African to score 300 on Sunday. He goes about his business in a very plain way, kind of like the wallflower at the party who has a PhD in biochemistry. With Amla, there’s no rah-rah, there are no fireworks and there is very little extravagance. At the end-of-day press conference he joked that he never thought the 300 would happen, because with his usual scoring rate, 300 is always a very long way away. His innings was made up out of the usual textbook player patience, dashed with just a bit of tantric excitement. From the moment Amla edged through the slips and past Andrew Strauss on day two, he looked determined to not make another mistake. And he didn’t for another 13 hours and nine minutes, when 23,500 people rose to their feet at The Oval to applaud his milestone.
A hundred for Boucher
That Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher are best friends is no secret. Boucher’s forced retirement would certainly have had an impact on Kallis, but the big man put it in the back of his mind and soldiered forth to bring up yet another Test hundred. As he raised his bat in acknowledgement, Kallis pointed at his eye to dedicate his hundred to Boucher all the way back in South Africa. It was one of those moments which makes cricketers human, something which is very often forgotten when the odds are stacked up against them.
What the pitch?
When a series contains the world’s best bowling attacks, a pitch which favours them is generally preferable. While the weather leading up to the Test would have made it rather difficult to prepare the pitch properly, it could have been slightly better than the dull, dead version on offer in this Test – which tortured those who prefer the clattering of stumps rather than runs oozing from the bat at all angles.
Graeme Smith did exactly what everybody expected him not to do on Sunday. He made one of the gutsiest, if not the gutsiest, declarations of his career. It showed intent and it showed that he backed his team to perform against a solid England batting line up. Both Smith and the team should be praised for putting personal milestones aside and coming together with the focus firmly set on one common goal: the possibility of pulling off a miraculous win. England closed the day at 102 for 4. DM
Photo: South Africa's Hashim Amla celebrates reaching his triple century during the first cricket test match against England at the Oval cricket ground in London July 22, 2012. REUTERS/Philip Brown