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

The joy of Test-match batting

Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis gave a lesson in Test match batting during their record stand, showcasing skills that can only be found in the game's original format

For the first hour of both the third and fourth morning at The Oval, the cricket belonged exclusively to the purist. If a visitor who knew only Twenty20 had walked in and paid attention, he would have marvelled at the inertia and the interest given to it by a full house. Probably, he would have decided that it was not for him.

This is Test match cricket's great dichotomy. A brilliantly conceived game for another, more patient, age. Leonard Hutton batted 13 hours and 17 minutes when he broke Don Bradman's world record score here at The Oval in 1938. Hutton was on the front page, back page and newsreel of every medium in the land. There is something quite sadistic about such play, something cold that tells one about the mind of the practioner.

Hashim Amla was at the wicket for 13 hours and 10 minutes while making 311. He showed not a hint of emotion during this time, batting without any evident joy or display of flourish. And yet his innings will long be remembered as an epic, one to cherish for its excellence and effect of course, but also for the pleasure brought by wristy brush strokes that add variety and style to the white and green canvas of a cricket field. For Amla, there will be reflected glory.

In the first hour today Jacques Kallis made just 12 runs; Amla 24; South Africa only 36. England's bowling was straight and mainly full, as it had to be. The ball would not deviate a millimetre for the much celebrated home seam attack. When it did spin for Graeme Swann the batsmen reacted with a technical mastery rarely seen in the age of crash, bang, wallop. On a pitch so true as this, 36 in the first 15 minutes of a T20 game would be the starting point for a violent assault. There are some miles in this pair and, sensing England's last hurrah, they stayed on the ropes, sucked up the punches and waited their moment. In the next hour, they scored 75. Enough said.

Unlike one-day cricket, where the limitation of overs dictates to players, Test cricket allows choices. There is Virender Sehwag's way and Rahul Dravid's way; Alastair Cook's and Kevin Pietersen's. The team needs both

Unlike one-day cricket, where the limitation of overs dictates to players, Test cricket allows choices. There is Virender Sehwag's way and Rahul Dravid's way; Alastair Cook's and Kevin Pietersen's. The team needs both, much as it needs steady Vernon Philander and magic Morne Morkel. Amla, like Kallis as it happens - this may not be a coincidence - prefers to stay within himself. This is smart for it gives the bowlers no expression of character with which to work. Think Bjorn Borg against John McEnroe. Some players you can tease or taunt. Others you can seduce. But not this pair.

God knows England tried everything. New ball, old ball, orthodox swing and reverse. Over the wicket and around, close to the wicket and wide. Slips and gullies. No slips or gully. Doubtless they said some stuff, little jibes to disturb concentration but the scoreboard rendered the side-of-the-mouth stuff useless. Off-side biased fields, leg-side fields (though not enough of those). Some cutters here and there, the odd bouncer (wasted). Lots of off-spin but no doosra - and thereby hangs a tale about a changed game in the modern era.

On slow pitches the doosra is the trump card simply because the batsmen cannot play back so safely. The doosra is the unknown: it is the fear of the unknown. With Swann covered, the threat of England's attack halved. Memo to the world - get Swann, diminish England.

Watching the South Africans warm up before play, one sensed seniority and authority. These were men with pedigree, men sure of themselves and comfortable with their game. It was not a surprise that Amla and Kallis played their first hour every bit as intelligently as Amla had played the first hour on Saturday with Graeme Smith. For once, England could not bully and it showed.

Some of us could not get enough of it, slaves to our fascination with the game that strips a man to the bone. It is not called Test cricket for nothing; 36 in the first hour on Sunday; for the record a mere 40 in the first hour on Saturday - 11 of which came in the last over of that hour. So two hours cricket, 76 runs, no wickets, barely an appeal. Loved it. We would take that, us fanatics, every day of the week. See, you just can't explain the thrill in the sheer tension of a Test match. If you transcend it when a player, as Amla and Kallis did, you often go on to win. Those of us who are watching think we have always won.

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on July 23, 2012, 16:10 GMT

    S.A will become No.1 and HASHIM AMLA can rule all formats of world cricket.

  • cric on July 23, 2012, 16:02 GMT

    First of all i am glad to see England walloped in their own backyard. I read the post match comments of Andrew Strauss boasting of an outstanding England pace attack which can take 20 wickets on any surface. Well, first of all England does not have an outstanding attack barring James Anderson. Maybe they should have picked Steve Finn to add more teeth to their attack. Secondly, it was great watching Amla, Kallis & Smith bat. It was a special treat to us cricket fans to watch a languid player like Amla score a triple hundred. Amla showed his class and showed once again that test match cricket is the real deal. Finally, hats off to Kallis. Players like Kallis & Dravid are always a treat to watch. Dale steyn once again showed why he is world's no 1 bowler by picking 5 wickets on a "Sub-continental" wicket with no swing !!.

  • daniel j on July 23, 2012, 12:18 GMT

    I was at Saturday's days play and despite the lure of gratis hospitality behind me in the Ashes Suite I could not be dragged away from a thoroughly engaging display of old school test match batting. Sods law of course dictated that I was taking a comfort break when Bresnan, albeit briefy, broke the tempo of the day with the rather fortunate scalp of Smith. Often after the demise of these big partnerships you're optimisitic that "One gets you two", but when big Jaques comes sauntering down the steps you pretty much know that it's more likely to be a case of "As you were chaps!"

  • kumar on July 23, 2012, 12:14 GMT

    well played cook, smith, amla and kallis but if it were a sub continent pitch, heads would have started rolling with comments criticizing the pitch. A result is still possible with England loosing but it would be because of England's own failings and some superb bowling from SA rather than the pitch being result oriented.

  • Charith on July 23, 2012, 11:47 GMT

    when batsmen score over 600 for just 2 wickets in england its great batting but when they score 450 all out in SL its a batting paradise therefore a poor pitch.Double standards any one

  • Jerry on July 23, 2012, 11:18 GMT

    My personal opinion is that test cricket has had its day.The so called battle between bat and ball and the elements is interesting only for those 22 players and to no one else.It is high time the ICC abolished this format or maybe try limited overs for each innings say 120 overs/innings to make it interesting for even a die hard fan like me!To watch cricket in England is expensive with ticket prices around £60.For a family of four with travel that would come to nearly £500/day and that too to see a player scratch around all day!!

  • Harmon on July 23, 2012, 10:19 GMT

    @sandy_bangalore: You make a great Troll dude. And you ignore the fact that Kallis was in fact batting only for his double else he would have accelerated after his 150 but for your mal-programmed thinking process, it is only "OUR" batsmen who continue to seek records with little regard for the match and team needs. Btw, which batsmen do you point at specifically? Sachin? For his 100th 100? His SR in that match was 77 and Kohli's SR was 80. If you blame Sachin for batting slowly then what about Kohli? Or may be it is possible that the pitch was indeed a bit slow and stroke making was difficult - why do you preclude this possibility? In any case, what is your opinion about Sangakkara's super slow 100 in the 1st ODI - Was KS selfless in his innings huh?

  • Rajaram on July 23, 2012, 9:17 GMT

    It was beautiful to watch Hashim Amla elegantly grind the English bowling to the dust. Only a fool who wants Crickentainment like Slogging T20 will say no to Test Cricket.

  • Noman on July 23, 2012, 9:02 GMT

    As usual, brilliantly articulated Mark. Though more often than not, I would like to see the wicket offering some assistance to the bowlers for warriors like S. Waugh and super heroes like BC Lara to shine through!

  • Dummy4 on July 23, 2012, 8:05 GMT

    Pretty good article Mark. Am currently in Peru and therefore haven't been able to follow the action live (on either TV or at the ground) but your article helped me visualise, at least first hour of Saturday & Sunday's play, the artistry displayed by Amla-Smith & Amla- Kallis respectively. Test is the ultimate form of Cricket, long may it live :-))

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