England v South Africa, 2nd Investec Test, Trent Bridge, 2nd day July 16, 2017

Amla's under-stated excellence gives South Africa the platform they have craved

Hashim Amla's 87 is destined to become a footnote in a mighty career. But if it ends up being the bedrock of a famous win, it will deserve more plaudits

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WATCH - Amla brings up second fifty of the Test

Hashim Amla's career won't be remembered for this innings. And it may not be remembered for any of the 26 innings that have preceded this either, because the last 18 months have been unusually tough on him.

Since giving up the captaincy in the first week of 2016, after England posted 629 for 6 on a pitch prepared as a balm to the 241-run drubbing South Africa took the week before, and scoring a serene double-hundred in response, Amla has played 15 Tests including this one, and scored a half-century or more seven times. That doesn't sound too bad - in fact a lot of players would quite happily take that - but considering that, at the peak of his powers, Amla would score a fifty in every third innings, it was the sign of a slump. And it was made more glaring by the other issues in South Africa's line-up.

AB de Villiers has not played Tests since that England series, JP Duminy and Faf du Plessis took turns in being dropped during that series, and Temba Bavuma and Quinton de Kock have had to grow into their roles since that series, so when Amla underperformed, it became an eyesore. His aggression and impatience were put down to the inevitable consequences of a T20-obsessed landscape, his lack of footwork and slower reflexes, the result of age. But Amla commands immense respect so any suggestion of a decline was only whispered and then drowned out with reminders of how much South Africa still need him. In this match, more so than usual.

The opening pair are still unsettled, so Amla has been called on before 10 overs were up in all four innings on this tour so far. He still has to see off the new ball and do a repair job before he can begin building his own innings and a partnership, he is still seen as the steady hand. Now, in Nottingham, he has looked it too.

Amla approached his second innings with the mixture of care and confidence that made him such a classy player. On the second evening, he took on the short ball and the some of the spin, then defended the rest, and went to the end of play on 23 off 47 balls. Stable but not spectacular.

With three days left in the game, and much riding on the way South Africa batted on the third morning in what remained bowler-friendly conditions, the Amla of old was on display. He added just two runs to his overnight score off the first 19 balls he faced, resolutely defending against James Anderson and Stuart Broad, before he found himself stuck in his crease against a beauty of a ball from Broad and had nowhere to move when it took the faintest of edges.

And yet, there was hardly an appeal. The memories of a wasted review in the fifth over the evening before were fresh, the knowledge that it would be a 52-over wait before the DRS would be topped up might have swayed it, and England decided not to go upstairs. Had they made use of the third umpire, Amla's innings would have ended on 25. But without missed opportunities and smidgens of luck, sport would become painfully predictable, and this will merely go down as a "what-if" for a England and a "thank-goodness" for Amla. He certainly made it count.

For the rest of the morning, he did what his team needed him to do which was not much more than occupy the crease. There was no need to rush, with almost three days left in the game, and the lead slowly growing. There was more of a need to gnaw away at time, so that any thoughts England had of saving the game or chasing a record target could be blotted out. Amla was there to do the blotting. He let Dean Elgar keep strike and punish the bad balls. He understood his role was one of presence, not power.

Hashim Amla's 87 set the tempo for South Africa's innings © Getty Images

Amla faced 34 balls before he showed some signs of irritation and slashed at a wide ball, but his placement was wide enough of gully for it not to matter. He faced another three deliveries before he took on Liam Dawson, his first shot of intent. Three more followed, in Dawson's next over, all beautifully timed strokes, the first two accompanied with shimmies down the track and the third, a wristy shot through midwicket. Just as Amla was hitting his stride, South Africa lost Elgar and de Kock in successive overs and so Amla reverted to staying, not striking.

After lunch, he was joined by his captain du Plessis, who also enjoys the slow-burn. Together, the pair were dour but determined. They dug in. They ground England down. They didn't try anything more dramatic.

Again, there was a time when Amla started to get more adventurous. It was when Moeen Ali came on for the first time in the day. Amla brought out the paddle-sweep, then a flick off Broad and another aerial drive off Dawson. He was starting to sense a century and, because he didn't get there, there's a fair chance this innings will disappear into a number on a scorecard. It shouldn't.

Amla has not played so telling an innings to win a match in a while. He has saved games with knocks like his double hundred against England and a century against Sri Lanka in Colombo in the winter of 2014, but to win a match, you have to go as far back as Port Elizabeth 2014 when Amla scored quickly enough for the declaration to come at the right time for the bowlers to beat the weather and Australia. That was more than three years ago.

So maybe Hashim Amla's career won't be remembered for this match. But if his twin fifties form the spine of a South African win and light the fire for a comeback in the series, maybe some part of it should be.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dr.sai3368009 on July 17, 2017, 18:01 GMT

    hashim amla : great player for a reason. the most valuable player for south africa for years and years

  • Sammy K on July 17, 2017, 17:26 GMT

    Amla is all class. He ranks among " the best ever" without doubt. He can play any format, though he is usually linked to Test cricket. Let's not forget his last IPL stint. Teams that ignored him in the first round must have regretted that decision. Bit players like Mathews commanded huge sums whie both Imran Tahir and Amla were ignored, initially. Both Tahir and Amla were spectacular in the IPL. Guess who is laughing now?

  • Gavin on July 17, 2017, 16:32 GMT

    Alex :"Great player show up when team needs him" By your very definition he is a great. Did he not turn up this test when he was needed most? Two vital 50's on a very tricky pitch. Sure he has been through some testing times the last season or so (name a great that never had a lull in their career), but he is looking almost, but admittedly, not quite, back to his best again. His first innings 78 was as fluent as I've seen him in a while. His form is on the up and I will be happy to see him get a big one at the Oval. England, watch out!

  • psethe5489841 on July 17, 2017, 13:38 GMT

    Alex, how wrong you are! Amla has been - for last 10 years, and remains to present day- the most important player for SA. He has been an absolute rock for SA success, more so than any other players including ABD, Mokle, Styen, Faf etc..

    If Amla fires, SA go on to win/draw the match and when he fails, SA invariably go on to lose. It's as simple as that! Basically, he has scored more 'important' runs than any other player for SA.

  • Asaduzzaman on July 17, 2017, 8:42 GMT

    No doubt, he is one of all-time greats. Loved to watch Amla. His patience, his control, his elegance, his consistency was unparalleled over the last decade.

  •   cricfan78338774 on July 17, 2017, 6:12 GMT

    @Alex, I think that the alleged greats, root kholi et al, dream of being as good as Amla, but then again, that is just my opinion.

  • niaz on July 17, 2017, 1:11 GMT

    SA usually had a very good batting. In the last test they lost too many wickets early. QDK is pushed up and Puff is back. Now their middle order looks good (Specially with two good knocks from Philander in this test). They do miss ABD, and lost two great players on Kolpack. If Rabada comes back in a good form, SA will look like a potent side.

  • Alex on July 16, 2017, 23:34 GMT

    Great player show up when team needs him. But it never happen that way.I think a player play well on many variables in synch with his energy. 1. You need a match up. You need weaklink bowler or bowler you can read before he bowls. 2. Your own energy level. With faf around all SA players are amped up so that leave only first one. England bowlers are good match up for amla. Its like a candy for him. There is no one is perfect in all matches. I do think he lost his form for a while and survived because of his past performances.

  • Alex on July 16, 2017, 22:08 GMT

    He's a good player but people go a bit over the top about him sometimes. For me he's one level below the modern greats, Sangakkara, Lara, Sachin etc, and probably also a level below the current crop of Root, Kohli, Smith and Kane.

    Think he looks well past his best, including this series, but fair play to him for digging in.

  • Yogesh on July 16, 2017, 21:36 GMT

    @Mohammed - nowhere in Firdose's article does she "belittle" Amla. Yes, he is popular and well loved universally, but Moonda's job as a journalist requires her to state facts and not just write poems of flattery. Your comment is ridiculous.

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