England v South Africa, 1st Investec Test, The Oval, 4th day July 22, 2012

Smith's creativity brings rewards


When Graeme Smith declared South Africa's first innings with his team 252 runs in front and four sessions left in the game, he did something South African cricketers are not known for. He got creative.

Many observers expected him to allow the record run-scoring to continue for a few more overs, especially with Jacques Kallis approaching a double hundred, before unleashing his attack for a short burst. Instead he took the situation by the scurf of the neck and handed the challenge to England's top order; the end result was four wickets which has put South Africa in prime position for victory.

Hashim Amla, who was undefeated on a South African-record 311 when he was told to stop, offered some insight into the captain's decision. "We saw the wicket is good to bat on and we'd rather have a lot of time to bowl and chase whatever we have to than bat on for 10 or 15 overs that we may need later on," Amla said, indicating that South Africa have prepared to bat again if needs be. "You'd rather be in our change-room without a doubt."

Despite the unresponsive surface, Amla believes there is something in it for South Africa's attack, particularly Imran Tahir who already has the scalp of Andrew Strauss. "There's quite a bit of rough. Even though they don't have many left-handers to come, the rough is always a danger for the left-handers so maybe Imran can get a bit there," he said.

Amla predicted a tough first hour which has been the pattern throughout the match. He negotiated two days' worth of first hours; day three when South Africa managed just 32 and day four when they scored 36. "It's tough going early doors. Fresh bowlers in these conditions are never easy."

England will know that only too well, as they faced the first hour on day two and lost three wickets in that time. With South Africa's attack proving dangerous, England face a battle early on the final morning "Dale, Morne and Vernon got the ball to move a bit," Amla said. "It's their good skill that is coming through."

Skill has been the winner in this match, whatever happens on the final day, with Amla's masterclass the highlight. His marathon innings resulted in the first triple hundred by a South African in Tests but he said it was not always easy. With Smith, he had to "just hang in there and hang in there," until conditions allowed for freer flowing play.

"Graeme batted superbly," Amla said. "His knock was a major stepping stone for us in our big total: the way he managed to grind it out. We went through patches where we didn't score a lot and then either he would score freely or I would. That's the beauty of a big partnership."

A second sizeable stand, with Kallis, guided Amla to the milestone and he credited his partner with providing "guidance," during their time together. "You keep encouraging each other as you go on and you keep building," he said. "You want to put the team in the best position as possible."

Amla had not had much time to think about his achievement by the end of the day's play but took immense satisfaction from putting his team in control. "The biggest pleasure is that we are in a really dominant position to win this position, that's the great joy. You want to contribute handsomely to the team. I try not to get into the psycho-babble about it and try and maximise opportunity."

Breaking a record and making history were things Amla had never thought about before and will not put on his to-do list in future. "I didn't ever dream about getting 300, although I would have loved to," he said. "I've always been the kind of person to never set goals. Fortunately, that means you can keep going without being limited by having set something up."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Gerald on July 25, 2012, 9:10 GMT

    @Shan156 - I don't get your point. Are you saying that Steyn's stats of 279 wickets at a SR of 41 is irrelevant? You are so one-eyed it is embarrassing. McGrath has played 2.5 more Tests than Dale. We will see how Steyn's performances against other teams evens out over the same amount of games. You are also doing the typical dragon slaying that internet tough guys do... I didn't say McGrath is bad or horrible. Hell I didn't even say Dale is better than him. I said that Dale IS already an all time great bowler in is his own right. It has nothing to do with McGrath who I am happy to acknowledge. The fact that you refuse to give Dale his due is pathetic.

  • Shanmugam on July 25, 2012, 0:57 GMT

    btw @StaalBurgher, here are some of your greatest fast bowler Steyn's stats - an average of 36.5 in SL. Glenn's worst average in any country is 31 in Pakistan. The great Steyn averages 32 against England which supposedly has poor batsmen. Glenn's worst average against any country is 27. And, he did this for 124 tests spread over 14 years. Aside from blinkered SA fans, and some Indian fans, no one would agree that Steyn is as good as the great Pigeon. oh, the less said about Steyn's ODI record the better. He has a mighty economy rate of 5.08. Glenn finished with 3.88.

  • Andy on July 24, 2012, 20:27 GMT

    I will be really happy SA are crowned no.1 in tests, they are the much deserved team. They have played well all around the world including sub-continent which usually both Eng and Aus struggled.

  • Gerald on July 24, 2012, 12:34 GMT

    @Shan156 - I don't see many SA fans getting over excited. Most of us considered the two teams pretty equal before the start of the series, or at least close enough that a prediction is anything but guesswork. Now on to your ridiculous statements that none of our players rival the Aussies. Dear me. Warne and Gilchrist are the only two you would have a point with but I don't see anyone claiming SA to have a better wrist spinner/wicket-batter than those two, do you? Steyn is already one of the greatest fast bowlers of all time. Just look at the stats. Thanks for acknowleding Kallis but dismissing Amla and de Villiers? Smith not at least the equal of say Langer/Hayden? You have no idea what you are talking about. No team will be as strong as the 90s Aussies unless they get a spinner of Warne's quality. And I still don't see anyone making SA out to be the greatest of all time. Best right at this moment, sure, but you are slaying imaginary dragons as they say on the Guardian.

  • Peterincanada on July 23, 2012, 15:56 GMT

    This test was definitely saveable but modern players do not seem to be able to keep their strokes or their egos in the bag. KP's innings in the context of the game was a joke. He hardly played a defensive stroke in the short time he was there. Similarly,today, with the new ball due, Prior exposes the tail by attempting to sweep Tahir. Four runs at that point was useless. It was absolutely necessary to stay around to face nd try to see off the new ball. These two just don't seem to have the necessary will to play for the team rather than themselves. All credit to Bell, with a modicum of help, he might have seen England through.

  • Muttee on July 23, 2012, 15:41 GMT

    There was no way SAF letting this chance go, and that is what happened. They played exceptional cricket and got the rewards. Well Done and best of luck for the rest of the series. I think ENG need a lot of work to come back in the series but seems highly unlikely.

  • Dummy4 on July 23, 2012, 14:18 GMT

    South Africa playing at their best. They have deserved to be no. 1 for so long and I think the imminent thumping victory will make it inevitable in the coming weeks.

  • Dummy4 on July 23, 2012, 14:13 GMT

    Ok, so some fans and one Ausie fan in particular have suggested that Imran Tahir is no good, and if he is any good he is only good to remove the opposition's tail. I, personally, cannot see why the latter is not good enough, in itself, to earn him a spot in the Protea team, given the fact that tailenders have won a fair share of tests for their countries, in the modern era even more so than at any previous time. Be that as it may, Imran Tahir has removed both A.J. Straus and M.J. Prior in this test. If the above fans are correct in their evaluation of Imran Tahir, it must mean that Straus and Prior have now become England's new tailenders, something which I find quite amuzing.

  • Andrew on July 23, 2012, 14:12 GMT

    @Randyoz 09:23AM - Cricket is dead in England? How does it look in Australia after England's 4-0 whitewash of your hapless bunnies two weeks ago? Given that both nations are clearly dead in your cricketing scheme of things, let's cancel next year's Ashes and we'll just keep the urn ok?

  • Geoffrey on July 23, 2012, 12:27 GMT

    Number one may be hanging by a thread. But it may be a much thicker thread to cut than South Africa can currently imagine. C'mon England! Stuff the next 60 odd overs down South Africa's neck and watch them choke.

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