England v South Africa, 1st Investec Test, The Oval, 3rd day July 21, 2012

Smith and Amla a study in contrasts

Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla both scored centuries on the third at The Oval but that is where the similarities stop for two vastly different batsmen
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Contrast is a form of art on its own. That is why the splash of a sunset against the canvas of the sky is a ready-made photograph and the rugged feel of leather and the luxurious softness of silk make them both common materials for clothing. The beauty of them all comes not just because they are different but because they are strikingly different.

In cricket, too, those extreme juxtapositions exist. The same players can produce a completely different contest on a green top to the one they will tussle over on a rank turner. A seam bowler's snarl invokes a different fear to a spinner's snare and at The Oval on day three, Graeme Smith's determination gave the England bowlers as much to think about as Hashim Amla's elegance did.

The two combined for 259 runs, the highest second-wicket stand for South Africa against England. Their blend of belligerence and style took the game from its position on the fence and planted it squarely in South Africa's corner.

Technically and temperamentally, the duo are as different as beauty and the beast. Smith lumbers through innings with a heavy bottom-hand and predominance for thumping the ball onto the leg side with little regard for how blunt the clobbering looks. Amla dances through, from his unusual backlift to his delicate driving and wristy strokeplay.

Those two approaches formed a resistance so strong that the England bowlers could not penetrate it. Like all good attacks, South Africa's pair built theirs on a foundation of defence. Smith and Amla played out the end of the second day in pedestrian fashion, with the run-rate never climbing above 2.3 an over on a slow pitch.

Their main focus was to see the day through and it showed in the exaggerated way Smith did almost everything. He shouldered arms as though he was auditioning for a deodorant advertisement, raising his bat above his head and leaning on his left hip as he let the ball through to Matt Prior. Although he had trouble getting back and across to the angle of James Anderson, Smith showed a determination that implied it would take a huge effort to move him.

The lack of runs did nothing to frustrate Smith, either. He left as though he could do it for the rest of the series, with astute awareness of where his off stump was. When he could play a shot, he did it with the care of a man escaping prison.

Amla provided a perfect foil at the other end. Nothing he did looked like an effort. Everything happened with the stillness and calm that he has become known for as his patience stood as intact. The only time it dipped was when he offered a chance off Ravi Bopara's bowling late on the second day.

Amla did not falter again in his innings and rolled the classy cover drive off his bat in the fifth over of the morning. He stood tall to thread the ball through the gap, an establishing shot for the many more back-foot strokes he would produce as the day went on. Amla settled faster than Smith, who at one stage confessed to wondering how the No.3 had managed to time a shot so well when he was "scrapping for runs at the other end."

Smith's struggle was exacerbated by the tense duel he was engaged in with Graeme Swann as the offspinner worked from around the wicket to try and get the edge or an lbw. There was an inside-edge that evaded short leg, a leading edge that went straight to the ground and an outside edge that ended up at third man. There was also an appeal for a ball that did not spin enough and another for one with too much bounce. The ball turned past Smith's bat numerous times but still he survived it all.

He also survived 17 balls and 20 minutes on 48, while Amla brought up his half-century in quiet fashion with a single to mid-on. Then Smith enjoyed a small psychological victory when he reached 50 off Swann with a flick through the leg-side.

By the time the milestone had come up, Smith had faced 18 more balls than he did during his previous slowest 50, eight years ago in Galle and only played four shots on the off side. But, he had released pressure and grown in fluency after seeing plenty of bowling outside the off stump. "As much as England tried to frustrate me, I tried to frustrate to them," he said.

In the end, it was obvious which one out-frustrated the other. Smith and Amla escalated the run-rate in the second hour of the morning session to over 5.5, each accumulating in their own way. Smith clobbered the ball with the weight of a hearty steak and ale pie while Amla was able to place the ball into areas with an attention to detail as intricate as lace.

England's bowlers had to change tack and bowl straighter. Smith could continue to squirt runs on the leg side as Amla played all around the field. While they grew in confidence, the attack receded, eventually allowing the pair to pull off the best contrast of them all. The lunch break was sandwiched between their centuries but it did not need an interval to make a distinction that was already so obvious. Smith had willed himself to a hundred, Amla had played himself there.

The Oval has witnessed some glorious contrasts. The 197-run stand between the Waugh brothers 11 years ago was a mosaic of Steve's extreme determination while battling a calf injury and Mark's skilfully attractive strokeplay. Now it can add Smith's unrelenting grit and Amla's fountain of finesse to that.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Meety on July 23, 2012, 11:07 GMT

    @sachin_vvsfan - he's batting @ #3! LOL!!!!!!

  • sachin_vvsfan on July 23, 2012, 6:37 GMT

    Amla the most underrated opener. Period

  • Y2SJ on July 23, 2012, 3:03 GMT

    England has proved again that they had a fluke run towards the top. SA is the better team.

  • on July 22, 2012, 18:02 GMT

    All these waanabe batsmen have lots of learn from Hashem AMLA. see his over 300 runs not a single sixes he played. same as Sangakara. Bravo Hashem Your style of play totally different from others.

  • on July 22, 2012, 11:18 GMT

    South Africa HAVE beaten Australia in Australia under Smith in 2008, 2009. Thanks largely due to an amazing century from Duminy.

    I don't care much for over analysis of statistics. Fact is Smith is a great captain, and a good batsman. Kallis, De Villiers and Amla will always be better at batting than Smith, but when the chips are down and the pressure on, Smith stands up and performs. His team feeds off his determination.

    As for people predicting a 3-0 whitewash - we haven't even won this one yet. England are not number one for nothing. Write them off at your peril.

  • on July 22, 2012, 11:07 GMT

    @Chris Sin

    If you see record for Don Bradman, if you exclude his record against weeker teams that time, South Africa, West Indies and Baby team India and New Zealand, he averages 89. For Wally Heymond, his average against strong team of that time, Australia is 51.85. Negative statistics always shows negative picture. Smith played some crucial innings to make SA win in Australia and England though his average might not upto the mark. Sachin has better average than Smith but he failed to play at crucial stages to make his team win.

  • on July 22, 2012, 10:43 GMT

    If you look at Smith's batting record, his average is inflated by averaging 80 against Ban and Zim and the other side he bats so well against is WI where he averages 69. Then there is ENG where he averages 59. He averages 34 against IND, 35 against SL, 36 Against AUS and 44 against NZ and PAK. So exclude his record against BAN, ZIM and WI, his average would be below 50, even lower if you exclude ENG. ENG is his favourite team. You can't be considered a great if you can only play well against your favourite team plus the weaker bowling attacks. When can lead SA to win against Aus at home? Never done it.

  • on July 22, 2012, 9:58 GMT

    Amla such elegant strokeplayer

  • Happy_AusBang on July 22, 2012, 9:38 GMT

    I think the batting evens out. South Africa are definitely better than England at the top, but England's tail is probably the best in the world today so the net result in batting at least is even. In bowling if Finn plays, both the teams are even, South Africa may have a small advantage. Swann could be the difference. If he can really turn in the next game, then we will find out how good the SA batsmen are. We don't know much about Imran Tahir yet and if he too starts turning then we know how the English are against spin. This one is heading for a draw I would say but the series is still fascinating.

  • on July 22, 2012, 8:19 GMT

    On an unrelated note, it was quite nice to see cricket being played without sledges and verbal excuses especially considering that it was a frustrating day for bowlers.The match is being played in Spirit of the game. Eagerly looking forward to the 4th day. It will be tough for England.

  • Meety on July 23, 2012, 11:07 GMT

    @sachin_vvsfan - he's batting @ #3! LOL!!!!!!

  • sachin_vvsfan on July 23, 2012, 6:37 GMT

    Amla the most underrated opener. Period

  • Y2SJ on July 23, 2012, 3:03 GMT

    England has proved again that they had a fluke run towards the top. SA is the better team.

  • on July 22, 2012, 18:02 GMT

    All these waanabe batsmen have lots of learn from Hashem AMLA. see his over 300 runs not a single sixes he played. same as Sangakara. Bravo Hashem Your style of play totally different from others.

  • on July 22, 2012, 11:18 GMT

    South Africa HAVE beaten Australia in Australia under Smith in 2008, 2009. Thanks largely due to an amazing century from Duminy.

    I don't care much for over analysis of statistics. Fact is Smith is a great captain, and a good batsman. Kallis, De Villiers and Amla will always be better at batting than Smith, but when the chips are down and the pressure on, Smith stands up and performs. His team feeds off his determination.

    As for people predicting a 3-0 whitewash - we haven't even won this one yet. England are not number one for nothing. Write them off at your peril.

  • on July 22, 2012, 11:07 GMT

    @Chris Sin

    If you see record for Don Bradman, if you exclude his record against weeker teams that time, South Africa, West Indies and Baby team India and New Zealand, he averages 89. For Wally Heymond, his average against strong team of that time, Australia is 51.85. Negative statistics always shows negative picture. Smith played some crucial innings to make SA win in Australia and England though his average might not upto the mark. Sachin has better average than Smith but he failed to play at crucial stages to make his team win.

  • on July 22, 2012, 10:43 GMT

    If you look at Smith's batting record, his average is inflated by averaging 80 against Ban and Zim and the other side he bats so well against is WI where he averages 69. Then there is ENG where he averages 59. He averages 34 against IND, 35 against SL, 36 Against AUS and 44 against NZ and PAK. So exclude his record against BAN, ZIM and WI, his average would be below 50, even lower if you exclude ENG. ENG is his favourite team. You can't be considered a great if you can only play well against your favourite team plus the weaker bowling attacks. When can lead SA to win against Aus at home? Never done it.

  • on July 22, 2012, 9:58 GMT

    Amla such elegant strokeplayer

  • Happy_AusBang on July 22, 2012, 9:38 GMT

    I think the batting evens out. South Africa are definitely better than England at the top, but England's tail is probably the best in the world today so the net result in batting at least is even. In bowling if Finn plays, both the teams are even, South Africa may have a small advantage. Swann could be the difference. If he can really turn in the next game, then we will find out how good the SA batsmen are. We don't know much about Imran Tahir yet and if he too starts turning then we know how the English are against spin. This one is heading for a draw I would say but the series is still fascinating.

  • on July 22, 2012, 8:19 GMT

    On an unrelated note, it was quite nice to see cricket being played without sledges and verbal excuses especially considering that it was a frustrating day for bowlers.The match is being played in Spirit of the game. Eagerly looking forward to the 4th day. It will be tough for England.

  • on July 22, 2012, 6:04 GMT

    @RandyOZ, I think England will not let SA win this test/series so easily as.

  • on July 22, 2012, 5:41 GMT

    RandyOz, Engalnd may well lose this test but it is still the best team in the world. SA could bat most of day 4 since batting runs to no 7 and then Tahir can turn the ball. Next test, England need Finn and Tremlett instead of Bopara and Broad. At least Finn for Bopara. Finn is fast. On a seaming wicket against Finn, Tremlett, Anderson, and Bresnan, SA would make less than 200 and maybe so would England against Steyn, Philander & Morkel. In the 2nd inning, Swann woudl give them an advantage. A batting track works to SA's advantage because only one bowler in the world bowls unplayable deliveries on a batting track and that is Steyn.

  • landl47 on July 22, 2012, 3:52 GMT

    Amla is a very elegant and attractive bat, as well as a very good one. He plays as late as anyone in the game today and hence is able to deal better with the problems of a wicket that seams or turns. Whether Finn's extra pace and bounce would have made any difference I don't know; the England bowlers today, although they bowled generally good lines and didn't let SA get away, didn't look all that threatening. However, I'm inclined to put that down to good batting- credit where it's due. Watching Amla bat in a test match is a most enjoyable experience, even against England.

  • Shafaet_001 on July 22, 2012, 2:57 GMT

    @pulkit10: Half of the 2nd day wasn't washed by the rain. Eng and saf played almost 261 overs in total, so only 9 overs are lost, not bad. If rain stays away in next two days it'll be a fantastic test match. Hope AB and JP will explode today and saf will declare at tea with a lead around 220 which is enough to get to the safe side and attack england.

  • RandyOZ on July 22, 2012, 2:48 GMT

    Lets face facts; this English side just isn't that good. Nicolas and the media bandwagon have hyped them up beyond belief. Finally they are being exposed as a bunch of medium pacers with one good swing bowler (Jimmy). Apart from Trott and Cook the batting is very poor against the likes of Steyn and Morkel.

  • rahulcricket007 on July 22, 2012, 2:20 GMT

    @THE BLUE ANDROID . NOPES INDIA WOULD HAVE BEEN BUNDLED OUT FOR LESS THAN 300 . BECAUSE OUR OPENERS SEHWAG , GAUTI DOESN'T GIVE RESPECT TO NEW BALL , SACHIN WOULD HAVE BEEN IN TENSION FOR COMPLETING HIS 100 TH HUNDRED , RAINA DOESN'T KNOW TO PLAY SHORT BALL .LAXMAN WOULD HAVE MADE 35 OR 40 RUNS .

  • RandyOZ on July 22, 2012, 1:55 GMT

    Yesterday's game proved what I have been saying for a while now; this English attack, bar Anderson, isn't that good. Wins against a weakened India and Australia lulled them into a false sense of security but now that a team applies some pressure they go to water as I predicted. As I also predicted Broad and Swan both struggled. Broad really needs to fix up his attitude. I would have imagined Finn would've been a lot more effective than Broad today. This English side is poor and the even the English now must admit the comparisons to the great Australian side are farcical.

  • pulkit10 on July 21, 2012, 23:33 GMT

    It's rather sad to see people denying that England's bowling was very average today. It's rather obvious that SA got extracted more out of this seemingly lifeless pitch (infact, they extracted enough to take 7 wickets for 100-ish runs). And to the people complaining that this pitch is an insult to "Test cricket" - I'm sorry? Even if you take out the time washed away on day 2 (half a day), you still have a decently poised game i.e. within the space of 2.5 days, England has been bowled out for under 400 and South Africa are in the lead on the third day - hardly an "insult to test cricket", now is it? The truth is, SA showed some determination and didn't give England any chances it didn't deserve; England's middle order, on the other hand, did just that and the result is there for us to see.

    Hoping for an even better day 4.

  • StatisticsRocks on July 21, 2012, 23:04 GMT

    Awesome batting. I hope SA make it interesting by declaring with 150 / 200 run lead and let Steyn and Morekel go crazy.

  • JIBRANDADA on July 21, 2012, 22:54 GMT

    this was classical from SA. amazing batting from all 3 especially amla(i dnt knw if he was fasting or not) bt if he was then hars off to him. this is the real chance for I.Tahir to prove a point to world n me. i have no faith in him at all. SA should go quickly on day 4 reaching lead in acess of 200 and give then self atleast 4 sessions to bowl at England. eagerly waiting for day 4 to start common SA

  • SnowSnake on July 21, 2012, 21:49 GMT

    Good job SA. However, highly disappointing game. Poor pitch and poor strike rate. SA was not aggressive enough. One thing is sure SA cannot lose this game. Looking at the pitch, it will be a draw. England really have to mess this up to lose.

  • Sp1ro on July 21, 2012, 21:28 GMT

    Junaidpatel, that question was asked a lot today but cricinfo commentary confirmed that Amla is only fasting on non-matchdays, so he will have eaten during today. Still, a fast going into a match is hardly the best preparation imaginable, so it's still very impressive. In fact, batting through an entire day is a feat for any batsman, but to do it so gracefully and to look as good at the end of the day as Amla did is just amazing. A legend in the making this guy.

  • the_blue_android on July 21, 2012, 21:08 GMT

    Lot of Indian highways are wearing off because of rains etc. Can the pitch curator be sent to India to lay some nice roads please? If India was given a pitch like this, India would have scored 500 runs in a day. England clearly underestimating SA batting and overestimating their own bowling.

  • junaidpatel on July 21, 2012, 20:47 GMT

    What was even more amazing about Amla's batting was the fact that he was fasting and thus had nothing to eat or drink from 3am this morning ( he will be able to eat from approximately 9pm onwards). To be able to bat the whole day without any food/ drink and maintain complete concentration until the last ball of the day is an amazing achievement

  • pmp_onln on July 21, 2012, 20:43 GMT

    England is scared of Steyn and co. , that's why they prepared a flat wicket.......only found in subcontinent....., make a green top for next match and do a favor to cricket and cricket fans. If they prepare green top for next match it will be hilarious to see the two very good bowling sides go against good batting, my money will be on SA though....for their bowling....

  • Front-Foot-Lunge on July 21, 2012, 20:39 GMT

    Magnificent display from Amla. The infamous English 'summer' this year has meant the one dry pitch, at the Oval, long the dustiest pitch in England, has had it's life sucked dry from it. Amla knew what to do, as did Smith and Kallis, and blunted whatever England tried to throw at them. Endless maidens played out were succeeded by chancy but high-percentage shot selection. Well played.

  • Spelele on July 21, 2012, 20:39 GMT

    Let's wait until SA have bowled on that pitch again before concluding that it is 'too flat for a result' shall we? And more interestingly, where was all this talk after Day 1 of the test. Everyone seemed to conclude that it was the mediocrity of SA's attack rather than the (now dubbed) flat pitch. The inescapable conclusion is that the SA attack have been miles better than the English attack on a slow pitch. Who is the better attack then? Hmmm, we'll have to see.....

  • SurlyCynic on July 21, 2012, 20:27 GMT

    England prepared a flat pitch to negate Morkel and Steyn (the last game between the two sides in Jhb had the English batsmen jumping) and favour Swann. It backfired.

  • MattyP1979 on July 21, 2012, 20:14 GMT

    Who predicted 600/4? Anyways you are right a dominant day by SA. However 18 runs ahead, day 4 you lot going under 3 an over, flat pitch etc. If you had a good spinner I actually might be worried as it stands draw seems odds on. You can look forward to explosive hitting so will all the Eng fans (only way we have a chance of getting a wicket). Flat pitch...too flat maybe to get a result...thoughts?

  • the_blue_android on July 21, 2012, 20:13 GMT

    This is what happens when you overestimate your bowlers and prepare a flat track pommies.

  • Cpt.Meanster on July 21, 2012, 20:11 GMT

    I hope now the English supporters will 'agree' that the Oval pitch is a flat track and their bowlers are in no way special or unique to pull out the bunny from the hat. These are hopeless conditions for test cricket and any bowling side. The South Africans also have shown that they are a slightly better batting side than England. Now it remains to be seen whether England can restrict them to under 500. I hope there is a result here but it's highly unlikely. I expect England to bat better in their second innings and this English team have shown they don't commit the same mistakes twice. All in all a poor advert for the so called 'glorious' old game. This also goes to show how lame some people's predictions have been. Glad I was right from the start though, the fact this pitch was a poorly prepared one.

  • on July 21, 2012, 20:00 GMT

    There is a small editorial error. You missed out 'day' after third.

  • Spelele on July 21, 2012, 19:56 GMT

    Nice piece :) A completely dominant day from the mighty South Africans. Where are all the English fans who predicted 600/4 declared from their team, and SA being shot out cheaply by an innings? These are the Proteas, not the Aussies! I'm looking forward to some explosive batting from AB, JP and the other Jacques later on tomorrow. Bring on Day 4! And by the way, I guess we all knew that the English attack (especially after having left out their most dangerous fast bowler - Finn), was not as invincible as the likes of India made them look. Thanks SA for exposing them; we were tired of hearing how great they were from uninformed pundits who clearly had never heard of Steyn, Philander, Morkel, Kallis and Tahir :)

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  • Spelele on July 21, 2012, 19:56 GMT

    Nice piece :) A completely dominant day from the mighty South Africans. Where are all the English fans who predicted 600/4 declared from their team, and SA being shot out cheaply by an innings? These are the Proteas, not the Aussies! I'm looking forward to some explosive batting from AB, JP and the other Jacques later on tomorrow. Bring on Day 4! And by the way, I guess we all knew that the English attack (especially after having left out their most dangerous fast bowler - Finn), was not as invincible as the likes of India made them look. Thanks SA for exposing them; we were tired of hearing how great they were from uninformed pundits who clearly had never heard of Steyn, Philander, Morkel, Kallis and Tahir :)

  • on July 21, 2012, 20:00 GMT

    There is a small editorial error. You missed out 'day' after third.

  • Cpt.Meanster on July 21, 2012, 20:11 GMT

    I hope now the English supporters will 'agree' that the Oval pitch is a flat track and their bowlers are in no way special or unique to pull out the bunny from the hat. These are hopeless conditions for test cricket and any bowling side. The South Africans also have shown that they are a slightly better batting side than England. Now it remains to be seen whether England can restrict them to under 500. I hope there is a result here but it's highly unlikely. I expect England to bat better in their second innings and this English team have shown they don't commit the same mistakes twice. All in all a poor advert for the so called 'glorious' old game. This also goes to show how lame some people's predictions have been. Glad I was right from the start though, the fact this pitch was a poorly prepared one.

  • the_blue_android on July 21, 2012, 20:13 GMT

    This is what happens when you overestimate your bowlers and prepare a flat track pommies.

  • MattyP1979 on July 21, 2012, 20:14 GMT

    Who predicted 600/4? Anyways you are right a dominant day by SA. However 18 runs ahead, day 4 you lot going under 3 an over, flat pitch etc. If you had a good spinner I actually might be worried as it stands draw seems odds on. You can look forward to explosive hitting so will all the Eng fans (only way we have a chance of getting a wicket). Flat pitch...too flat maybe to get a result...thoughts?

  • SurlyCynic on July 21, 2012, 20:27 GMT

    England prepared a flat pitch to negate Morkel and Steyn (the last game between the two sides in Jhb had the English batsmen jumping) and favour Swann. It backfired.

  • Spelele on July 21, 2012, 20:39 GMT

    Let's wait until SA have bowled on that pitch again before concluding that it is 'too flat for a result' shall we? And more interestingly, where was all this talk after Day 1 of the test. Everyone seemed to conclude that it was the mediocrity of SA's attack rather than the (now dubbed) flat pitch. The inescapable conclusion is that the SA attack have been miles better than the English attack on a slow pitch. Who is the better attack then? Hmmm, we'll have to see.....

  • Front-Foot-Lunge on July 21, 2012, 20:39 GMT

    Magnificent display from Amla. The infamous English 'summer' this year has meant the one dry pitch, at the Oval, long the dustiest pitch in England, has had it's life sucked dry from it. Amla knew what to do, as did Smith and Kallis, and blunted whatever England tried to throw at them. Endless maidens played out were succeeded by chancy but high-percentage shot selection. Well played.

  • pmp_onln on July 21, 2012, 20:43 GMT

    England is scared of Steyn and co. , that's why they prepared a flat wicket.......only found in subcontinent....., make a green top for next match and do a favor to cricket and cricket fans. If they prepare green top for next match it will be hilarious to see the two very good bowling sides go against good batting, my money will be on SA though....for their bowling....

  • junaidpatel on July 21, 2012, 20:47 GMT

    What was even more amazing about Amla's batting was the fact that he was fasting and thus had nothing to eat or drink from 3am this morning ( he will be able to eat from approximately 9pm onwards). To be able to bat the whole day without any food/ drink and maintain complete concentration until the last ball of the day is an amazing achievement