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England v SA, 3rd Investec Test, Lord's, 4th day

Steely Amla shows substance over style

Hashim Amla is one of the rare stylists left in the game but it was his unwavering determination that brought him a valuable hundred at Lord's

Sambit Bal at Lord's

August 19, 2012

Comments: 35 | Text size: A | A

Hashim Amla reached his second hundred of the tour, England v South Africa, 3rd Investec Test, Lord's, 4th day, August 19, 2012
Hashim Amla's century at Lord's was celebrated with more gusto on the South African balcony © Getty Images
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As the shadows lengthened from the Pavilion End on the third evening and Stuart Broad strained to provide England the wicket that would carry them into the night with force behind them, Hashim Amla unfurled two strokes that mark him out among the rare stylists left in the game.

The first was caressed down the ground, with the ball gathering speed as it always does when it is timed well. That took him past 50, for only, hard to believe, the second time in the series. A ball later, as if to treat himself, he leaned forward to the penultimate ball the day, allowed it to come to him and opened his blade to persuade it through extra cover. Had VVS Laxman not been preoccupied with the small matter of wrapping up his career and been watching instead he would have quietly approved. Like him, Amla is a man of style and steel.

Seen in isolation, those two strokes would have fooled you. It was an innings of more steel than style. At The Oval, he had drained the spirit out of the England bowling by simply offering them no hope. Not a ball went past his bat unless he willed it to, and off the bat, he painted a wagon wheel so perfect that it would seem he didn't want to be partial to any corner of the ground. But at Lord's, with the match, the series and a dream in line, he had to wage a mighty struggle, and in its own way, it was equally impressive, and certainly as important.

Since that unbeaten 311 in his first innings of the series, he had managed only 50 in the next three. It could hardly be regarded as a sudden loss of form, but South Africa would be grateful his second hundred came in his final innings of series, and in came in conditions far tougher. James Anderson swung the ball both ways, Steven Finn was fiery, Greame Swann looked more like bowler he was expected to be at the start of the series and the openers went cheaply.

But over all else, there was a struggle within. The feet were awry, the timing was off, and strokes were uncertain. On two, he gloved a ball to Matt Prior who couldn't hold on to it, on 30 he survived a close lbw shout form Swann and in the next over he inside-edged a drive dangerously past his stumps. But mettle is tested when a batsman has to overcome the body's unwillingness to sync with the mind, and Amla hung on, scrapping, scratching, finding spaces to score runs steadily even without the fluency that is the hallmark of his batting. After Kallis fell in the dying hours, he was the man left carrying the South African dream.

A new day brought no respite. Finn gave him a torrid first hour, he sliced a lofted drive dangerously over mid-off, and couldn't find a boundary until a few overs after the lunch break. It took him to his 16th Test hundred, nine of which have come in the last three years. It is no surprise that he has also been the most prolific South African batsman in this period. His number of centuries now stands only behind Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith and Gary Kirsten and at 62 Tests, Amla is at the mid-point of his career.

Watching him in his debut match against India at Kolkata, it was hard to see he would come this far. Everything about him looked exaggerated. His stance was wide to the point of ungainly, his bat swung around in the air before it found its direction and he was always moving as he played a stroke. In his first innings he was out exactly the way he looked like getting out from the moment he came in, his stumps shattered by a ball that moved in to him.

Amla is convinced that he hasn't changed a lot, and he is right in the sense that the broad basics of his game has remained the same. His stance is still wide, his bats still hangs in the air and comes down at an angle, but he has minimised his movements which gives him a solid base without compromising the essential wristyness of his batting. And because he has the ability to play late, he can hit the ball on the up on the front foot against the fast bowlers, and punch them off the back-foot against the spinners.

Before the series started, the spinner was meant to be the major difference between the sides. That Imran Tahir will end the series with nearly double the wickets of Swann's tally isn't a fair reflection of how they have bowled, it is of how expertly the South African top order have tackled Swann, and Amla has led the way. At The Oval, where the pitch was slower and lower, he stayed back and scored so easily off the back foot that Swann found it impossible to have a settled field. Altogether, he has scored a century off Swann's bowling alone - 111 off 203 balls without being dismissed - which is comfortably ahead of the second best - Kallis' 47 off 104 balls.

When he got his Lord's hundred, his teammates on the balcony celebrated with greater gusto than he did. AB de Villers clapped from a distance before giving his partner a quite a pat on the back. The only gesture Amla made was to thank his backroom staff and got around to building more runs. Ironically, the fluency returned briefly after he got his hundred and he stroked Broad for a gorgeous four through extra cover. Finn got him for the second time in the match, this time beating the outside edge of the bat, but by then he had played the defining innings of the Test.

At most times, Amla is a joy to watch. But as they stand at the doorstep of a special moment South Africa would value the substance he provides far more.

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by DeathKnell on (August 20, 2012, 18:49 GMT)

Al_Bundy1 on (August 19 2012, 21:00 PM GMT) - Sachin is always sachin...he never had Steyn, Philander, Kalis, Morkel....though there were comparative batsmen

Posted by DeathKnell on (August 20, 2012, 18:43 GMT)

@ Hammond - ya right...I think they started this coming back since the time they got #1 status on 22-Aug-2011, good going so far till today 20-Aug-2012....sure they will come back.....

Posted by Dravid_Pujara_Gravitas_Atheist on (August 20, 2012, 17:41 GMT)

Hashim Amla - he is a phenomenon. No words could do justice to the part he plays in the SA team. What a series victory he gave to South Africa and the No.1 ranking! South Africans couldn't ask for more. Kallis can now relax knowing that there is another batsman like him in his team. England did well to reach no.1 but their reign as no.1 is quite frankly horrible - 6 losses or so in 11 tests. That's appalling. Congratulations to South Africa and commiserations to England.

Posted by   on (August 20, 2012, 17:30 GMT)

@ramchand vadali... Mohd. Yousuf has been one of the best batsmen of his time... and Amla seems to be the next to become the best... both have been proved to be the real matchwinners and produced many great innings at difficult times... Laxman has been a classical batsman who produced some good innings, however he has been inconsistent at times... 'batting with tailenders' can't be the only criteria, consistency is a bigger issue than this... then how can one say that neither Yousuf nor Amla come any closer to Laxman?...

Posted by Asadpk on (August 20, 2012, 17:18 GMT)

@Ramchand Vadali, rahulcricket007, D.Sharma - Yes I see your point about Laxman and I know that VVS was Very Very Special coz of his excellent record against the best teams and his match winning knocks like these in pressure situations. That is why one can argue that players like VVS, Dravid, Inzamam are remembered more for their contributions in such situations than other players with more centuries and superior averages (like Kallis, M. Yousuf or dare I say Tendulkar). My point was that Amla resembles Yousuf more in style than VVS, the way he stayed back in the crease and played Swann from the back foot in this series reminded me of Yousuf's technique.

Posted by   on (August 20, 2012, 17:11 GMT)

@AsadPk, i read ur comment. u mean laxman is better than amla!!! no doubt laxman has a good record against australia specially whem most of the indian batsmen struggle abroad. but amla whether inside south africa r outside, is the currently the best. look at his innings against pakistan, india, england and austrailia in foreign lands. no doubt he is better odi & test batsman than laxman. laxman is a very moderate batsman in world cricket.

Posted by Paulk on (August 20, 2012, 16:50 GMT)

At the post match presentations Atherton asked remarked that he was now the No.2 ranked Test batsman and No1. ranked ODI - Amla's response was "I am not even the 2nd best batsman in my team". What a humble guy !

Posted by   on (August 20, 2012, 16:46 GMT)

@AsadPk..Laxman batted with the tailenders most of the time and either won or saved them batting at no.6, yet ended up with 17 centuries at 45.82. He played more abroad than in India, and your argument that he Amla played on pacy wickets doesnt hold good.Amla batted with top order batsmen around him, but Laxman didnt! Laxman is many times fluid than Mohd.Yousuf(aka Yousuf Youhana). Did Yousuf play innings like those Laxman did? 167 vs Aus at Sydney, 96 at Durban, 73 not out at Mohali(yes this is a green top!) ,148 at adelaide! those are just few. Pace or Spin treated alike. Neither Yousuf nor Amla come any closer, with all due respect

Posted by Hammond on (August 20, 2012, 16:41 GMT)

England lasted double the last time when South Africa owned number one. They will bounce back.

Posted by tomk_1977 on (August 20, 2012, 14:17 GMT)

Amla is a good batsman. But how good he is?? The overall quality of bowlers in the whole world is mediocre at best. The good bowlers are in the SA team as well..

Amla never played against Wasim/Waqar/Shoaib or Warne/McGrath or Murali or the WestIndian greats Ambrose/Walsh and co...

So Amla's achievements can't be compared with that of Ponting's/Sachin's or Kallis'

Even Srilannka's Samaraweera is racking up good scores these days...

Posted by   on (August 20, 2012, 12:23 GMT)

@disco_bob: a cricket ball is often described as picking up speed when it doesn't decelerate as it normally would, the term is also often used to describe bowlers who get the ball to bounce through quickly

Posted by GasPipe on (August 20, 2012, 12:09 GMT)

@Raad, if you actually read the article, you would realise that the title is perfectly fine.

Posted by disco_bob on (August 20, 2012, 10:03 GMT)

@Sambit Bal, "...with the ball gathering speed as it always does when it is timed well..." I think Isaac Newton would have something to say about that. f=ma says that for the ball to accelerate there must be a force acting on it and the only force acting on the ball is the friction with the grass which is a pull, not a push and would therefore slow it down. There would need to be a very significant slope for gravity to supply the requisite force. Long story short; cricket balls do not 'pick up speed' after leaving the bat.

Posted by   on (August 20, 2012, 9:47 GMT)

If Amla's wristy strokeplay and text-book cover drives aren't style, than not sure what style is. I think Sambit Bal would say Lara didn't have style too cause he was unorthodox? Fail title.

Posted by   on (August 20, 2012, 9:46 GMT)

@Sambit Bal: What is wrong with Amla's style? ... which you are alluding to, like a parting punch on he nose. Watch his drives once again... watch his timing... also watch how he leaves the ball ( which is so important in test cricket and I am amazed at the way almost everyone underrate that part of he game, in a batsman's arsenal.)

Posted by   on (August 20, 2012, 9:15 GMT)

Azhar, Hooper and Mark waugh were more exciting and thrilling to watch, but they play their brand of cricket irrespective of the team position, while AMLA combines style and substance, and even forsake style for the sake of team. Laxman is more of an accumulator who almost every time go to the crease under pressure to perform to retain his place in the team.

Posted by rahulcricket007 on (August 20, 2012, 7:16 GMT)

@ASADPK . LAXMAN HAS BATTED MOST OF THE TIME AT NO . 6 POSITION . THAT 'S WHY HIS AVERAGE IS 46 IN TESTS . WITH RESEMBLENCE TO YUSUF . I AGRRE YUSUF IS A GREAT BATSMEN BUT WHEN IT COMES TO TEAM IMPORTANCE LAXMAN IS MUCH SUPERIOR . I HAVE GREAT RESPECT FOR LAXMAN & DRAVID BECAUSE OF THE TEAM SPIRIT THEY HAVE . LAXMAN WAS THE DISASTER MANAGEMENT SPECIALIST FOR TEAM INDIA . NO INDIAN CRICKETER HAS WON OR SAVE MANY MATCHES FOR INDIA THAN LAXMAN . HIS POOR AVERAGE IS ALSO BECAUSE HE WAS UNABLE TO SCORE RUNS AGAINST SIDES LIKE BANGLADESH , ZIMBABWE .

Posted by venkatesh018 on (August 20, 2012, 5:29 GMT)

Amla is the single biggest reason Swann's threat has been neutralized in this series. This is not the first time he has subdued a celebrated offie. He did the same to Harbhajan in the spinners' own backyard in early 2010.

Posted by venkatesh018 on (August 20, 2012, 5:11 GMT)

Style and Steel, the two words which perfectly sum up Hashim Amla. He is a real Zen Master at the crease and one of the last remaining breed of Classic Test Match batsman. Long may he prosper for the sake of South Africa and Test match cricket.

Posted by Anwaruzz on (August 20, 2012, 5:09 GMT)

Amla, Gower, Azahar, Fleming, Inzamam ! yes their fluid style is what I love about cricket

Posted by Shafaet_001 on (August 20, 2012, 5:05 GMT)

Hashim amla is one of the finest batsmen i've ever seen. He is fantastic in odi too,averaging over 50 with strike rate around 90!! He will break many batting records in future for sure.

Posted by Percy_Fender on (August 20, 2012, 4:35 GMT)

Usman Khwaja is a good player already. He plays more the Australian way and will never be like Amla. It is a pity that the Australian selectors are picking lesser players and not this very good player. Maybe it has something to do with reasons other than cricket. Even if it be true that he has not scored a big one in the limited chances that Usman has been given so far, from what we have seen he looks a solid bat that Australia could do with. In any case there is no Ponting in sight.He is presently playing in England. I hope he gets back soon enough after whatever polishing up he needs. It seems to me that the Australians only approve of a Warner type of player. Warner is a flash in the pan and will fade out after the Finns and the Andersons,the Broads and the Topleys are through with him in the Ashes next year. Now that Usman has got the experience of playing in England, I think he will make a mark next year. Good luck to Usman Khwaja.

Posted by landl47 on (August 20, 2012, 3:49 GMT)

Why on earth is this article entitled substance OVER style? Substance and style is more like it; Amla has shown equal measures of both. The title implies that Amla has forsaken style, while nothing could be further from the truth. He's had a great series. The 311 will be a major landmark in SA cricket forever.

Posted by D.Sharma on (August 20, 2012, 3:34 GMT)

@Asadpk: You are forgetting that Laxman is a middle-lower order batsman and Amla comes in one down, therefore the better stats. Laxman has scored 64% of his runs at 5 and 6 where Amla has scored 92% of his runs at the number 3 position. Case closed as far as stats are concerned.

Posted by   on (August 20, 2012, 3:10 GMT)

As a SRI LANKAN I love to watch him plays.He plays for the country he is not a selfish player like Tendulkar. evertime he made century SA wins the match.

Posted by RandyOZ on (August 20, 2012, 2:14 GMT)

@Asadpk - well said. I have also seen the resemblance to Yousuf. I am hoping Ussie Khawaja joins their ranks one day too!

Posted by   on (August 20, 2012, 1:58 GMT)

@Al_Bundy - Amla has Steyn, Morne, Philander. Sachin has Vinay Kumar, Umesh Yadav and Ashwin. BIG DIFFERENCE!!

Posted by Percy_Fender on (August 20, 2012, 1:38 GMT)

It is the beard which causes people to say that he looks like Yousuf in his play. Though Yousuf himself was a supreme stylist, Hashim Amla looks very similar to Laxman and probably, Azharuddin both from Hyderabad India. And the way he plays the leg glance could just be how Duleep used to play the shot considering that there is a Gujerat connection. A great player already.

Posted by CustomKid on (August 20, 2012, 0:31 GMT)

How good is this guy? Average above the magical 50 now and it's only going to climb. The best thing he is a joy to watch and so humble. A few other international players should take note. The one thing that amazes me is that when he is at the crease there is an air of calmness regardless of the situation. Not only with him but it encases his batting partner as well which makes things doubly dangerous.

Great hundred by a great ambassador for the game and his country. I can't wait to watch him live this summer in Australia.

Well done Hash and well done team South Africa.

Posted by Naresh28 on (August 20, 2012, 0:17 GMT)

Another plus for an Asian batsman (AMLA) showing sheer class. If VVS is gone, Amla is another wristy player doing well and can be likened to VVS.

Posted by   on (August 20, 2012, 0:00 GMT)

Personally I feel that Amla's style of play is very similar to Mohammad Yousuf, Laxman, Dravid and Inzamam. These players were the backbone of their respective teams and you could count of them to perform, when the chips were down. Anyway, Kudos to Amla and SA. SA is seems to be the best team in world cricket at the moment.

Posted by Asadpk on (August 19, 2012, 23:11 GMT)

While it's easier to compare Amla with Laxman in style but in terms of Test career stats Amla has a far superior average and centuries' record while batting half the time in South Africa' pacy wickets. Laxman is more comparable to Azharuddin while Amla reminds me more of Mohammad Yousuf both in terms of grace and style and career stats.

Posted by grizzle on (August 19, 2012, 22:55 GMT)

Taking the Indian analogy further, might one say that this was a Dravidesque innings from a Laxmanesque batsman? I thought Dravid was more steel and grit and willing to grind it out even when in bad form than Laxman. Anyway, whatever it was, it was a great innings and possibly a match winning one.

Posted by Al_Bundy1 on (August 19, 2012, 21:00 GMT)

Without a doubt Hashim Amla is the best test batsman currently playing. He is what 10dulkar could never be - a match winner! Off course it helps to have bowlers like Steyn and Morkel.

Posted by ygkd on (August 19, 2012, 20:39 GMT)

VVS exits. Hashim takes his place.

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Sambit BalClose
Sambit Bal Editor-in-chief Sambit Bal took to journalism at the age of 19 after realising that he wasn't fit for anything else, and to cricket journalism 14 years later when it dawned on him that it provided the perfect excuse to watch cricket in the office. Among other things he has bowled legspin, occasionally landing the ball in front of the batsman; laid out the comics page of a newspaper; covered crime, urban development and politics; and edited Gentleman, a monthly features magazine. He joined Wisden in 2001 and edited Wisden Asia Cricket and Cricinfo Magazine. He still spends his spare time watching cricket.

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