Amla performs in one-day gear
Hashim Amla may not like it but he is quickly becoming the Madonna of cricket, because of his ability to reinvent himself with every hundred he scores.
There have been four of them in Tests this year. There was the epic 311 at The Oval. South Africa's best Test score. There was the century at Lord's, to ensure Amla left his mark on the mace. There was the 104 in Brisbane, which was more about risk than rhythm. Now, there's the 196 at the WACA, where Amla brought his one-day game to Test cricket.
The 50-over game is played in vastly different conditions and to implement short-form batting strategy in long-form cricket can be, in the words of one journalist, "unsettling." Amla and Graeme Smith did just that.
Amla arrived at the crease in South Africa's second innings when Australia's bowlers had begun to relax. He was offered width and he saw no point in wasting it. Both Amla and Smith walked a long way across their stumps to play into the on-side, which Australia had left unprotected because they did not expect such tactics.
"They were a few loose balls that we managed to get away and that gave us bit of momentum," Amla said. "We managed to manipulate the field a little bit, wherever there are gaps to try and hit the ball, so that's why there were a few one-day shots coming in. If the team is in a good position, it gives you the freedom to look for those shots because if you do make a mistake, it's not a train smash."
As the top-ranked ODI batsman, Amla's limited-overs game is no longer a target of inquisition. His ability to pace an innings without looking rushed has become his most admired trait and, in a Test, it's all in his placement and angles.
Amla played the ball to fine leg or third man acutely enough to beat any fielder, and regularly eluded point and cover. He appeared in total control, deciding whether to go left or right of the fielder and usually managing to avoid them. Amla's timing is a less obvious asset because some of his shots don't make the final cut of a highlights package. It's the nifty cover drive to run three, the flick to fine leg for a couple and the tuck for a single.
He also has no problem with changing pace and mindset, as he did three times in this innings. On the second day, with Smith, the scoring-rate was close to seven runs an over and that dropped considerably later on. With Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers, the rate was 4.1 in both partnerships but the runs came in a different fashion. The adjustment was easy each time because of the "unique chemistry" with each of his partners.
"With Jacques, because of his hamstring problem, we had to be a bit careful with running. We tried to pick up a quick three and he pulled up short so I kind of got the message," Amla said. "When AB comes to the crease, it's a lot more intense. We are always looking for quick ones. Jacques and I bat at a similar tempo and we like to walk our singles if we hit the sweepers."
With Amla at his side, Kallis has scored almost double the number of centuries he had before there was a stable No.3 in South Africa's line-up. De Villiers has been able to bat in situations where a platform has already been laid. He began four of his last five centuries before today with South Africa already having scored 250, and he has been able to build on that.
Amla has fed off Kallis' experience and de Villiers' exuberance. As a result, his innings have covered the spectrum, and even though he will probably end the year with fewer runs than Michael Clarke, Amla is probably the most in vogue batsman of 2012.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent