South Africa was given a thorough workout by Pakistan at Newlands in the second Test, and Hashim Amla admits it was a hard graft. While conditions will be completely different at Centurion, Amla says the top order is eager to make amends for its failings – and that we can expect a spectacle. By ANT SIMS.
For the first time in its home summer, South Africa given a proper run for its money in the second Test at Newlands – only just squeezing out a four-wicket win against Pakistan.
In conditions which turned and forced the players to graft hard, there were a few squeaky-bum moments for the best Test team in the world. Hashim Amla admits, too, that chasing the target set by Pakistan was one heck of a challenge.
“Pakistan took us to our limits in certain respects. We were under pressure in our first innings, and then chasing 180, in the second, was never going to be an easy total,” Amla said.
The Proteas found themselves on the back foot, batting second, and it was only thanks to AB de Villiers and Robin Peterson that they managed to get close to Pakistan’s first innings total at all. While Peterson has flown under the radar for most of the summer, with the pacemen doing most of the damage for the Proteas, Amla hailed the spinner’s contribution with both bat and ball.
“We all know the kind of work Robbie puts in behind the scenes, so it was wonderful to watch him oozing with confidence while he was batting. He also made a significant contribution with the ball and has become a recognised player in his own right now,” Amla explained.
Despite a poor batting performance, where the top four managed just 89 runs between them in the first innings - and only Amla contributing significantly in the second - the right-hander insists that too much shouldn’t be read into the failings. While some of the strokeplay against spin wizard Saeed Ajmal was dumbfounding, there was plenty of spin in the wicket as the match wore on.
Amla believes those who didn’t contribute in the second Test will be eager to make up for it in the final match.
“A lot of us in the top order have got in, but haven’t made massive contributions, so we’re hungry to do that. The bowlers have enjoyed their wickets and will want to keep on in that vein, so there is a lot to play for still. This country is a very proud nation so we have a duty to uphold in that regard,” said Amla.
The Proteas head to Centurion without the services of Morne Morkel, who picked up a hamstring strain during the second Test. Rory Kleinveldt will replace him, and while the Cape Town-based player has had an up-and-down start to his career, Amla believes he will make good.
“Rory has become an integral part of the team, filling in whenever someone has been injured. Against New Zealand, he bowled really well, and he’s a quality performer,” Amla said.
“The series is already sealed, so there is less pressure on getting Morne ready and playing him half-fit. It’s a lovely opportunity for Rory to cement his position as one of the leading bowlers in the country.”
While Kyle Abbott has been called up as a replacement for Morkel, Kleinveldt is likely to get the nod ahead of the Dolphins player.
Abbott has had a good run in the four day domestic competition, taking 12-96 against the Cape Cobras and ending the series with 49 wickets, the leading wicket taker for the tournament.
Kleinveldt has played three Tests for South Africa, and while his debut went awry, he redeemed himself in the following two matches. He could have a chance to cement his place as back-up bowler if the Centurion pitch offers him some assistance.
Another significant milestone also beckons for skipper Graeme Smith. if he leads his side to victory, he will claim his 50th win as captain, making him the most successful captains in terms of wins, although not in win-percentage.
Ricky Ponting helped Australia win 48 Tests in his 77 matches as captain, while Steve Waugh was the mastermind behind 41 victories out of 57 matches, when both skippers led the charge during Australia's Glory Days.
The Proteas are currently on a 14-match unbeaten streak, with Smith claiming five wins on the trot. The winning streak is still a long way off from Australia’s 16-match record, however, since they managed it twice - firstly between 1999 and 2002 and then again between 2005 and 2008.
While the Proteas might not yet have earned the invincible tag, South Africa certainly is building some solid foundations to ensure they stay on top, and skipper Graeme Smith wants to see them keep up the good work.
"It would be nice to get a tag that we're a very good team,” Smith said, when asked whether the Proteas were viewed as invincible.
“I think we've earned that. But we want to keep on producing these kinds of results and performances. We don't sit in the change room believing this kind of stuff. Each week is a different challenge, but it's nice to have that confidence in ourselves that we can perform in different conditions.” DM
Photo: South Africa's Hashim Amla plays a shot on the fourth day of the second cricket test match against Pakistan in Cape Town, February 17, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings