December 4, 2012

A short, sharp, compelling narrative

You could have argued for a longer series, but this one was close to perfect
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Australia lost the Perth Test in Adelaide, where hearts were broken with no time to mend. South Africa knew this. Rarely can a team have approached a clutch match with such confidence. Imagine you are running a marathon. You give it your best shot but each time you look over your shoulder, the enemy is still there. Then, on the home run, the enemy cruises past you. Though Michael Clarke was chosen as Man of the Series for the brilliant back-to-back double-hundreds he scored in the first two Tests, Faf du Plessis was the man over his shoulder, the man who made it possible for South Africa. The prize should have been his.

A strong enough argument is made for longer series between the better-quality and best-matched teams but a short and sharp three-Test bout with two of the games played inside a fortnight provides a compelling narrative. Much was made of the damage done to Peter Siddle on Black Monday at the Adelaide Oval but it was physical and therefore had identity. The real suffering was in the mind, and most particularly the mind of the captain, who surely knew that his own team's strongest race had been run. He also knew that key members of the opposition had air left in their lungs.

First among these was Dale Steyn, a bowler of such excellence that when the force is with him events will invariably turn the way of his team. As at the Kennington Oval in London last July, Steyn chose the second morning of a crucial Test to cast his spell. Sprinting to the wicket with unparalleled zeal, releasing the ball from a perfect wrist position and following through with the skip and commitment of a Springbok outwitting its hunter, the world's finest fast bowler accounted for David Warner before the first ad break; Nathan Lyon, the nightwatchman, before the cappuccinos; and Michael Clarke before drinks.

Few bowlers can do this - change the rhythm of a match so quickly and conclusively. One who could was looking on and purring approval. The best of Steyn is not far from Dennis Lillee, who was perhaps the best of them all.

But it is not easy work, far from it. The speedgun must show 140-plus and then the late, wicked outswing becomes irresistible. In fact, so much does Steyn take from himself that these moments are becoming harder to repeat. He is working on finding that late swing at a less demanding pace but it is elusive, a gift given to few. Malcolm Marshall had the same gifts but he too was confounded by the march of time, so developed an inswinger as the option, cutting his pace and hooping the thing in and out to the amazement of friend and consternation of foe.

Alongside Steyn are the admirable Vernon Philander and the increasingly awesome Morne Morkel. This is a three-ball to die for - different, awkward and all close to their prime. Add Jacques Kallis and you can see why Allan Donald suggested it was South Africa's finest-ever seam attack. Graeme Smith gobbles everything at slip that does not go to Kallis. Kallis gobbles everything else. AB de Villiers points his fingers at the ball but still gathers it well enough for the purposes of this fast attack. Mind you, his stumping of Clarke was a pearler. Natural games players have an instinct for such moments.

The best teams know when to close in for the kill. Smith and Hashim Amla did just that on the second afternoon, rattling along at seven an over after tea. Amla would have made a hundred in that session had Kallis not replaced Smith and dominated the strike.

Imagine you are running a marathon. You give it your best shot but each time you look over your shoulder, the enemy is still there. Then, on the home run, the enemy cruises past you

Amla must now be discussed alongside all the great Asian batsmen of the age. He is secure and comfortable in his skin, and his cricket is the product of a long school of learning. Put simply, he did not* have it easy and this stands him apart. Were he denied bat and ball tomorrow, you sense he would happily find something else at which to excel. As John Arlott noted: "He who knows only cricket, knows not cricket at all." (An adaptation of CLR James' memorable quotation of cricketers at the time.)**

Amla's innings humiliated Australia, so simple was its conception, so daring was its execution. But he knew he had an immature attack at his mercy and he sure hurt them for it. De Villiers fed from this, stuttering to 50 but then sprinting the rest of the way. Maybe AB can bat up the order after all, and to somewhere near the limit of his talent, while keeping wickets too. The selectors should not expect consistency, however, for these are creasing responsibilities.

South Africa has a very, very good team. The lack of a notable tweaker suggests it may not be a great one. I know West Indies pulled it off in the 1980s. It is just a hunch. These South Africans can be beaten, should have been in Adelaide if we are honest. West Indies, for a decade, could not. Neither are they quite as convincing as the team Ricky Ponting first led. Perhaps that is just the Warne factor.

Ponting said an excruciating goodbye to the international arena, which was sad. This most gladiatorial of cricketers was rendered helpless by a wretched loss of form. Temporary it may well have been but forgiving it is not. His permanent class deserved a better final curtain - a proper, glowing encore and bow. The hard-edged Tasmanian is one of the outstanding cricketers of any age. Supreme fitness, an ongoing sparkle in the field and an indomitable will carried him as far as it was possible to go. For whatever reason, the eyes, the hands, the bat had lost their magic. Surprisingly, he will play on in state cricket. Goodness, he must love the game.

And what more could we ask of the cricketers we watch, talk about, write about and so admire, than for them to love the game? It is a precious thing and a large part of our lives. The series finished with Smith interviewed by Mark Taylor on the presentation stage. Ten years in the job - an incredible 97 times he has led South Africa in Test matches - and he was word-perfect. Immensely generous in his reflections on Ponting, fair-minded in his appraisal of the series, sensible on the peripherals. And then he smiled a big man's smile at a job well done and a Test match mace set firmly in his arms that said, "We, ladies and gentlemen, are the champions of the world."

*04:14:32 GMT, December 5, 2012: Changed from "Amla did have it easy".

**13:13:50 GMT, December 5, 2012: The quote was originally attributed to John Arlott in this article

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

  • POSTED BY Jabulani on | December 8, 2012, 18:17 GMT

    I find it laughable how everyone claims SA were given a "run" for their money. In the first test we had 10 players and it was a comfortable draw, the second we lost Kallis and even though Aus were in a sure win situation, we forced a draw. Then we annihilated them in the third...

  • POSTED BY on | December 7, 2012, 13:38 GMT

    south africa drerves to be the number one but looking at the way they were given a run for thier money by the aussies, I am clear that the gap between the top 3 teams in one good day on the field. whichever team earns it will go on to win the test. Australlia bowling seems settled with pattinson, siddle and starc/ hazelwood , the concern is their batting. Serious batting starts at no 5, the first 4 players have beeen just fillers and one of them happens to be a legend of the game and has just announced his retirement. this over dependence on their captain and the veteran hussey could cause more damage. it would be better off if clarke shifts hussey to no 3 and him to no 4.

  • POSTED BY MrMojoRisin on | December 7, 2012, 10:53 GMT

    @pa99: Sachin Tendulkar led India when they visited our shores in 1999/2000. From memory he scored one hundred and two or three fifties, in six innings. Admittedly, he got three bad decisions, out of six. Meanwhile, Justin Langer scored 250 odd in a single innings in the Boxing Day test. Sachin was awarded the man of the series then. The rationale provided was that the results of that series hinged on his performances with the bat. BTW, the Aussies won that series 3-0.

  • POSTED BY Sinhaya on | December 6, 2012, 16:38 GMT

    South Africa are the greatest today but overall great was no one but the awesome Windies from 1980 to 1995 for not losing a test series both home and away. Windies never lost a home test series from 1972 to 1995. Aussies did not lose a home test series from 1993 till late 2008 when SA ended it. South Africa simply are the best for tests, but may be not for ODIs and T20s.

  • POSTED BY mahjut on | December 6, 2012, 13:09 GMT

    @Mitcher ... I hear you but surely not losing at home but having a formiddable away record is not a far cry from having a formidable home record but not dominating everywhere abroad. anyway, it's still early days to measure such things and i must admit i worry about the NZ series ... SA have a history of returning home in glory and entering an "easy" task - full of it!! Still, i think this team can cross into the phase of 'knowing' they will win each series, rather than knowing they 'can' - they're good enough!

  • POSTED BY mahjut on | December 6, 2012, 8:52 GMT

    @Adam Grech ... hang on now!! The "great" aussies never fared well in India till their twighlight. I have conceded their have been issues at home and the loss to SL (a very very long time ago now) was unexpected. However, even when they do not go and and dominate they are never beaten ... and they have not had the same wealth they have right now. To say aus came close to beating them in this series is gross wishful thinking (it would be like me saying SA completely dominated England when England last toured SA, and there's some evidence to show it but you - and i - have already acknowledged the draw ... the final result really is all that matters). It's easy to dismiss this team as just a very good team but we are in a new era and Smith, A Peterson (who wouldn't want a weak link this good!?), Amla, Kallis, AB, JP, Faf, R Peterson, Vernon, Steyn, Morkel ... mmm - come on! solid, deep batting, excellent 3-pronged attack, V good backup in Kallis and tidy, varied slow bowling. good times!!

  • POSTED BY ananthap on | December 6, 2012, 8:06 GMT

    Look. His ancestors were from Asia but Hashim Amla is South African - born and bred. he has scored in all the possible pitches and batting conditions. He is also not the first with such a background. (Remember Rohan Kanhai - the illustrious compatriot of Worrel, Sobers, Nurse and Butcher).

    It is demeaning to compare Amla with just Asian cricketers.

    Bt the way, all the Asian batting greats had stillness and economy of movement. But non Asian have it too. It's just that Asians were for long regarded as weak against pace bowling.

    OK

  • POSTED BY crashed on | December 6, 2012, 4:58 GMT

    well i cannot agree to compare the current SA team with those that have gone before them (Windies and Ausies) ... this team is creating their own legacy and someday in the (not so near) future when and if this team is not the best anymore and they had (hopefully) cemented their place in the record and history books. If they will then be compared then to the legends and not be found wanting i will be glad for then they had made and left their mark. As for right now they are on top and rightly so. But as for the previous holders of the op spot - India and England - nobody can claim they belong to the legends of yesteryear- As a South African i am proud of this team and i hope they stay on top for a very long time :) for me comparing them right now would mean they are not on top, or considered as the current best, anymore and that would be wrong as well since they are.

  • POSTED BY pa99 on | December 6, 2012, 1:43 GMT

    Most Man of the Match awards leave me confused. In the 1975 World Cup, I watched deryck Murray single-handedly put on partnership for the last wicket and guided WI to victory over Pakistan. Yet, the MoM award was given to sarfaraz Nawaz!

    in recent times KP won over Monty although Monty was the decisive factor when he spun India out. and I agree, FAF swas the decisive factor in the current AUS vs SA series.

    looks like MoM awards are awarded on quantity rather than who has the most influence on a match or series.

    Any comments?

  • POSTED BY Mitcher on | December 6, 2012, 1:32 GMT

    Posted by'F on (December 05 2012, 16:19 PM GMT)': It's simple - their home record. Sure, they haven't lost in a long time and have a formidable away record but 'not losing' at home doesn't quite cut it for a 'great' team. Their inability to dominate at home is holding them back. If they can rectify that in the next 2/3 years then the greatness tag would sit comfortably.

  • POSTED BY Jabulani on | December 8, 2012, 18:17 GMT

    I find it laughable how everyone claims SA were given a "run" for their money. In the first test we had 10 players and it was a comfortable draw, the second we lost Kallis and even though Aus were in a sure win situation, we forced a draw. Then we annihilated them in the third...

  • POSTED BY on | December 7, 2012, 13:38 GMT

    south africa drerves to be the number one but looking at the way they were given a run for thier money by the aussies, I am clear that the gap between the top 3 teams in one good day on the field. whichever team earns it will go on to win the test. Australlia bowling seems settled with pattinson, siddle and starc/ hazelwood , the concern is their batting. Serious batting starts at no 5, the first 4 players have beeen just fillers and one of them happens to be a legend of the game and has just announced his retirement. this over dependence on their captain and the veteran hussey could cause more damage. it would be better off if clarke shifts hussey to no 3 and him to no 4.

  • POSTED BY MrMojoRisin on | December 7, 2012, 10:53 GMT

    @pa99: Sachin Tendulkar led India when they visited our shores in 1999/2000. From memory he scored one hundred and two or three fifties, in six innings. Admittedly, he got three bad decisions, out of six. Meanwhile, Justin Langer scored 250 odd in a single innings in the Boxing Day test. Sachin was awarded the man of the series then. The rationale provided was that the results of that series hinged on his performances with the bat. BTW, the Aussies won that series 3-0.

  • POSTED BY Sinhaya on | December 6, 2012, 16:38 GMT

    South Africa are the greatest today but overall great was no one but the awesome Windies from 1980 to 1995 for not losing a test series both home and away. Windies never lost a home test series from 1972 to 1995. Aussies did not lose a home test series from 1993 till late 2008 when SA ended it. South Africa simply are the best for tests, but may be not for ODIs and T20s.

  • POSTED BY mahjut on | December 6, 2012, 13:09 GMT

    @Mitcher ... I hear you but surely not losing at home but having a formiddable away record is not a far cry from having a formidable home record but not dominating everywhere abroad. anyway, it's still early days to measure such things and i must admit i worry about the NZ series ... SA have a history of returning home in glory and entering an "easy" task - full of it!! Still, i think this team can cross into the phase of 'knowing' they will win each series, rather than knowing they 'can' - they're good enough!

  • POSTED BY mahjut on | December 6, 2012, 8:52 GMT

    @Adam Grech ... hang on now!! The "great" aussies never fared well in India till their twighlight. I have conceded their have been issues at home and the loss to SL (a very very long time ago now) was unexpected. However, even when they do not go and and dominate they are never beaten ... and they have not had the same wealth they have right now. To say aus came close to beating them in this series is gross wishful thinking (it would be like me saying SA completely dominated England when England last toured SA, and there's some evidence to show it but you - and i - have already acknowledged the draw ... the final result really is all that matters). It's easy to dismiss this team as just a very good team but we are in a new era and Smith, A Peterson (who wouldn't want a weak link this good!?), Amla, Kallis, AB, JP, Faf, R Peterson, Vernon, Steyn, Morkel ... mmm - come on! solid, deep batting, excellent 3-pronged attack, V good backup in Kallis and tidy, varied slow bowling. good times!!

  • POSTED BY ananthap on | December 6, 2012, 8:06 GMT

    Look. His ancestors were from Asia but Hashim Amla is South African - born and bred. he has scored in all the possible pitches and batting conditions. He is also not the first with such a background. (Remember Rohan Kanhai - the illustrious compatriot of Worrel, Sobers, Nurse and Butcher).

    It is demeaning to compare Amla with just Asian cricketers.

    Bt the way, all the Asian batting greats had stillness and economy of movement. But non Asian have it too. It's just that Asians were for long regarded as weak against pace bowling.

    OK

  • POSTED BY crashed on | December 6, 2012, 4:58 GMT

    well i cannot agree to compare the current SA team with those that have gone before them (Windies and Ausies) ... this team is creating their own legacy and someday in the (not so near) future when and if this team is not the best anymore and they had (hopefully) cemented their place in the record and history books. If they will then be compared then to the legends and not be found wanting i will be glad for then they had made and left their mark. As for right now they are on top and rightly so. But as for the previous holders of the op spot - India and England - nobody can claim they belong to the legends of yesteryear- As a South African i am proud of this team and i hope they stay on top for a very long time :) for me comparing them right now would mean they are not on top, or considered as the current best, anymore and that would be wrong as well since they are.

  • POSTED BY pa99 on | December 6, 2012, 1:43 GMT

    Most Man of the Match awards leave me confused. In the 1975 World Cup, I watched deryck Murray single-handedly put on partnership for the last wicket and guided WI to victory over Pakistan. Yet, the MoM award was given to sarfaraz Nawaz!

    in recent times KP won over Monty although Monty was the decisive factor when he spun India out. and I agree, FAF swas the decisive factor in the current AUS vs SA series.

    looks like MoM awards are awarded on quantity rather than who has the most influence on a match or series.

    Any comments?

  • POSTED BY Mitcher on | December 6, 2012, 1:32 GMT

    Posted by'F on (December 05 2012, 16:19 PM GMT)': It's simple - their home record. Sure, they haven't lost in a long time and have a formidable away record but 'not losing' at home doesn't quite cut it for a 'great' team. Their inability to dominate at home is holding them back. If they can rectify that in the next 2/3 years then the greatness tag would sit comfortably.

  • POSTED BY on | December 5, 2012, 23:56 GMT

    Sorry Mark, you lost me at this statement - 'Amla must now be discussed alongside all the great batsmen of Asian origin of the age.' Asian? Why pick on his ethnicity as a yardstick of success. Clearly Hasim Amla must be discussed alongside ALL batsmen, period, full stop! That innings, as much as Steyns bowling, clinically finished off Australia. And this is not an isolated case, Amla has repeated this on several tours away from home. He is peerless and to bring is ethnic background into it is demeaning at best.

  • POSTED BY Big_Chikka on | December 5, 2012, 22:54 GMT

    this was a test series for the books, and i hope smith, amla et al get their due recognition in years to come. on the whole love the way the sa's are playing at the moment. well balanced team. world no 1, yes definitely.

  • POSTED BY cricmatters on | December 5, 2012, 21:54 GMT

    The real South Africa stood up in the third test and delivered the goods. The first two matches almost seemed like if South Africans are here for sight seeing rather than playing competitive cricket. Luckily for them, Australian top order was wobbly and bowling attack under cooked allowing them to draw the first two tests in spite of being behind most of the time. Good luck to South Africa for retaining no. 1 position. They deserve it and will hopefully stay there longer than England or India.

  • POSTED BY PanGlupek on | December 5, 2012, 21:30 GMT

    Didn't watch much of this series, but it seems like it was a cracker. Surprised more hasn't been made of the fact that these two sides always have good, entertaining series, yet they never get a proper 5-test series for us all to enjoy.

    Maybe I missed some of the comments about that, but surely the boards have to try and swing that next time they sit down & plan to tour each other...

  • POSTED BY on | December 5, 2012, 16:19 GMT

    I disagree , I think SA are a great team and they have some great players , how can you compare a team from 30 years ago to a team playing in the modern era ? The game has changed so much. And when was the last time SA lost a series ? Mark is saying they can be beaten but pray tell when was the last time they were beaten in a series of test cricket ? They have just won 2 away series in a row against Aus and Eng and they arent a great team ? Just what exactly do they need to do to become a great team ? It doesn't matter though you can all carry on under rating this great team. I know in my heart they are a great team and i think the rest of you do to , bit jealous maybe ?

  • POSTED BY on | December 5, 2012, 15:18 GMT

    Mark Nicholas becomes Cardus like in this article.A team that is driven like the SA XI\deserves the glory.Perhaps it was a team driven by a good captain but perhaps they did it for Bouch.Well done to all the team and management.As in life you must be hungry to feel success

  • POSTED BY on | December 5, 2012, 15:04 GMT

    I have always regarded SA as the second best team while Australia dominated test matches for almost 15 years. This is a very good SA team but it isn't great. Still yet to beat Australia at home, draws to India and england at home, a shock loss to sri Lanka shows this team still has a long way to go. The fact that an average, but improving australia team came that close to winning/drawing the series should be a major concern to SA. When SA can beat all teams home and away, then they can be considered great. That said I would of loved to see an SA team with Barry Richards, Clive Rice, Greame Pollock, Mike Procter etc take on the windies in the 70s and 80s as i believe that would of been SAs greatest team.

  • POSTED BY Neuen on | December 5, 2012, 13:44 GMT

    The Rumble in the Jungle Ali vs Foreman Enough said

  • POSTED BY on | December 5, 2012, 13:07 GMT

    Another wonderfully written article by Mark Nicholas. Without doubt my favourite commentator too. You can feel the passion and emotion when Mark writes/commentates. Draws the audience in.

    I agree on Hashim Amla. He really reminds me of Mo.Yousuf. Such elegance at the crease and solid defence. I just wonder could Amla become the next SA Captain?

  • POSTED BY TsoroM on | December 5, 2012, 12:52 GMT

    Incredible writing Mark Nicholas, one of my best reads about the beautiful game of cricket! And a series as beautiful as the one we've just witnessed fully deserves such writing! Salute!

  • POSTED BY Yakka-04 on | December 5, 2012, 12:18 GMT

    Australia does not deserve number 1 tag even if it did win the series in Brisbane and Adelaide because they dominated those matches. Australian don't deserve it because they simply don't have a key strike bowler to turn to for wickets. All of them Siddle included are at best average and not reliable to turn matches around on it's head. Old Aussies had Warne and McGrath, SA has Steyn, Pakistan had Wasim and Waqar, Aussies simply don't have any of these caliber. Batting wise they are not even in the top 4 in the world. Take out Clarke and maybe Hussey, what do they have. they really need to invest in some top batters and destructive bowlers if they are to become number 1 again. It all starts from domestic cricket.

  • POSTED BY on | December 5, 2012, 11:43 GMT

    "Perhaps that is just the Warne factor." True, but this team has the Kallis factor - pretty much the perfect all rounder, something no team has enjoyed since, well, Sobers. Agreed with your point though: this SA team needs a proper spinner. Tahir's performance in Adelaide was embarrassing to watch (along with his equally silly over the top post wicket celebrations). Ticking that Spinner box and winning every where for another 3 years - including a world cup in 2015 - and then we can talk about this SA team along side Lloyd/Viv's Windies and Waugh/Ponting's Aussies.

  • POSTED BY Bollo on | December 5, 2012, 11:22 GMT

    @Zak - disgraceful is obviously an over-reaction. No batsman could have done more; 576 runs at 144 (SR 74) is pretty hard to top whatever the result. Sure, du Plessis had a stunning series, but on balance I think Clarke was the best-performed player. `meaningless`? big call.

  • POSTED BY on | December 5, 2012, 11:01 GMT

    I think all the comments about describing Amla as Asian-born cover me. But as a South African fan, and a fan who loves test match cricket more than any of the other formats, one must say that for me the biggest threat to SA dominance is Pakistan. They have the batsmen, both attacking and defensive, and more particularly, in Saeed Ajmal, they have by far the most dangerous spinner since Murali and Warne. Regardless of the ICC rankings, I place Pakistan as the second best test team in the world. Only after SA play and beat Pakistan can we then begin to really look at SA possibly becoming the third dominat world team (after Windies and Oz). PS The English team that trounced Australia, were fortunate that they played an Australian that was at their weakest, those same players have developed a lot since them. Both England and Australia are at best average teams with one very gifted player (KP and Michael Clarke) and a few above-average one's, but on the whole they are average.

  • POSTED BY on | December 5, 2012, 9:55 GMT

    It would have been a travesty if Australia won the match as they are not yet ready for the no 1 status in test cricket. They clearly dominated the first two matches and yet could not win at either Brisbane or at Adelaide and at Adelaide heartbreakingly so. That is as much a tribute to south Africa"s tenacity as to australia"s inability to close them out. Australia played beyond their capability thanks largely to Clarke"s batting ability. I dont agree that his contributions were not major. They were outstanding and gave australia opportunities to win which they could not capitalize on . Their greatest achievement was despite south Africa"s apparent superiority on paper and reputation player to player Australia had them on the back foot. This should be their incentive to build on and move forward. Well done both teams on a great short series and really fair, nice article Mark Ramanujam Sridhar

  • POSTED BY mahjut on | December 5, 2012, 9:37 GMT

    SA have surely had hiccup's when none were expected: losing (and drawing) to Oz at home and worse drawing with India at home not to mention drawing with England at home and it's for these reasons why i tend to agree they are not great but for me the reason is self-belief. I don't think anyone will see them as great (and i include themselves in that) until they've won an ICC competition. It's not that they really need to do that to be considered great but in the eyes of most of the cricketing world it's a feather that one needs to add to the cap before they fully achieve recognition as 'great'. It looks to prey on their minds ... those were hiccups that should've been avoided and a team like Waugh's simply knew they were going to win whereas the Saffers are reduced to knowing they can win. There's a big difference ... but the fact remains they have not been beaten for a very long time and i hope it continues (unless they finally play Zim in a Test - in which case i hope the hiccup's BIG

  • POSTED BY Clyde on | December 5, 2012, 8:42 GMT

    I have no idea what he means.

  • POSTED BY Zak- on | December 5, 2012, 8:40 GMT

    Clarke as man of the series is disgraceful. His runs were meaningless in the final analysis and far bigger contributions were made by many South Africans, most obviously du Plessis.

  • POSTED BY theman0493 on | December 5, 2012, 8:36 GMT

    "Amla must now be discussed alongside all the great batsmen of Asian origin* of the age." What?? Amla should be discussed alongside all great batsmen of all origins of all ages. Great batsmen should be discussed alongside each other regardless of their origin. Not the finest moment from an otherwise excellent writer and commentator.

  • POSTED BY dhr_acharya on | December 5, 2012, 7:00 GMT

    this is realllly great artical by mark sir.

  • POSTED BY on | December 5, 2012, 6:20 GMT

    Great article except that it was not necessary to say that Amla is of "Asian origin" (I see you must have changed this from "Asian-born" judging by the previous comments). He parents were also born in South Africa. He is South African, through and through!

  • POSTED BY legfinedeep on | December 5, 2012, 6:00 GMT

    You are gifted with the pen, no doubt - but take some time to research facts: As others have pointed out, Amla is NOT Asian born. He, his parents and even most of his grandparents were from SA. Many Saffers of Indian origin have to go back about 6 or 7 generation these days to trace their lineage back to India.

  • POSTED BY legfinedeep on | December 5, 2012, 5:10 GMT

    Why is it that when the Aussie didn't win from position of strengths, their fans lament that fact and say they had more better days and hence deserved to win? But when SA used to lose/draw from positions of strength, they were accused of CHOKING? If choking is losing from strong positions, then Australia CHOKED. Apply that term with equal opportunity, just as you would have done for the Aussies had the roles being reversed.

  • POSTED BY Percy_Fender on | December 5, 2012, 5:02 GMT

    Amla's ancestors came from Gujarat in India. The aland which gave the world the likes of Ranji,Duleep, Mankad and now Pujara. But there is no reason to believe that his cricketing style has been under that influence considering that he was born and brought up in Durban. It is just that wristy play that reminds one of Azharuddin and Laxman and his beard of Yusuf Youhana. The thing that makes him look more from the roots he belongs to is possibly his calm demeanour in a world of needless verbal ugliness. Amla can be compared with the very best in the world.

  • POSTED BY on | December 5, 2012, 4:34 GMT

    Amla made the different along with Steyn. great fan of SA now its high time to win some trophies. good luck. from Canada

  • POSTED BY Mitcher on | December 5, 2012, 4:28 GMT

    Come on people, if you're going to try to catch the writer out on something, at least be accurate. Nowhere in the article does it say "Asian born". Clearly says Asian origin - I think we all know what he means.

  • POSTED BY pankaj60972 on | December 5, 2012, 3:45 GMT

    Great article it was a poetry in motion, the comparison of marshal to styne was spot on but i think styne is a bit better considering advent of helmet and covered pitches, about ricky it is indeed sad that a cricketer of his stature had to go through the worst bad patch of his career at the end of it but in my opinion it dosent take away any of his greatness it was a pure pleasure to watch him play and compete over the years, many admired him , many loved to hate him but all respected him. amla is surely a great player in making but he has to prove himself in hot , humid and turning conditions of subcontinent to truly come in bracket of greats. well smith to me is a through professional and a true gentleman, his appreciation of ricky was genuine and adept. Thanks Mark for this lovely article.

  • POSTED BY harshthakor on | December 5, 2012, 3:25 GMT

    I disagree with Mark Nicholas.In the past there have been test series that have been much more closely contested particularly for the unofficial world test championship title.South Africa displayed overwhelming superiority in the final test while Australia were the moral winners of the 2nd test by a convincing margin.

    Infact a cricket fan may well have wanted South Africa to win in the manner of past great West Indian or Australian teams by a 2-0 or 3-0 margin,and thus rank amongst the all-time great sides.However here Australia were the better team in the 1st 2 tests.Alternatively we could have had a series where every game had a result and both teams going to Perth at one all.I consider the last series they played in South Africa in 20111 which was drawn 1-1 a far better one from the point of view of the intensity of the cricket.I even preferred the 2009-10 series in Australia and the 2010 series in S.Africa.

  • POSTED BY Hoady on | December 5, 2012, 3:21 GMT

    Strictly speaking, Mark doesn't describe him as Asian-born, only as comparable to.. which I take as a veiled reference to South Africa producing an Indian batsman in the class of Sachin or Sunil. Either way, it's a good tribute. What I like about Amla is he doesn't just produce big innings when SA is on top; he does it when all about him are crumbling.

  • POSTED BY RandyOZ on | December 5, 2012, 2:08 GMT

    This is poor form from Mark. Why would we compare Amla to other Asian players when he is South Africa. He is probably just devastated England didnt snap him up.

  • POSTED BY Tony4SA on | December 5, 2012, 1:46 GMT

    Steyn is definately one of the greats. His career strike rate is ranked 6th on the all-time list (he has played 60 tests). Better than Waqar Younis, Malcolm Marshall and Dennis Lillee. I just hope he can keep it up as I don't think he is performing as well as he did a few years back.

  • POSTED BY SATID on | December 5, 2012, 1:16 GMT

    If only Johan Botha could be regular in this setup. Same as Claud Henderson in Paul Adams era the best spinner in country will never be properly recognized. Stupid reference to Amla and Asian born batsmen...

  • POSTED BY truthfinder on | December 5, 2012, 0:42 GMT

    One way I believe SA should discard the obsession of having wicket taking spinner in future of the team. Their home condition is not suitable for developing a world class spinner, already they have very thin talent pool in that department. Instead they can just have 4 world class fast bowler like west indies in 80's and can easily get success in all condition. Australia can produce leg spinners (not very rich talent pool though) because their some what flatter pitches at least regularly helps spinners to control the game in domestic circuits. However in SA flat wearing pitches are rare, so the spinner there simply cannot develop their attacking skill.

  • POSTED BY MrKricket on | December 5, 2012, 0:38 GMT

    Here's hoping Usman Khawaja (who IS "Asian born') can be half as good as Amla.

    It was a lousy way for Ponting to go out but it shows how few champions can write their own ending. Tendulkar may choose to go the next time he makes a big score. Kallis could play forever.

  • POSTED BY heathrf1974 on | December 4, 2012, 23:55 GMT

    Pretty much summed up the series well. As an Aussie the Australians got close in Adelaide but SA have this self-belief that epitomises good no 1 sides. Du Plessis was the difference between the teams over the series. He is a South African hero.

  • POSTED BY alfredmynn on | December 4, 2012, 23:38 GMT

    Donald-Pollock-DeVilliers-Klusener-Kallis (in his prime) was better than this attack. I cannot believe how under-rated Shaun Pollock is, both as a pure bowler and an all-rounder. Donald was just being modest! Must confess that I did not think Amla's technique would hold up in international cricket. His stance, with bat up in the air as the bowler runs in, is not classical or compact and his method of walking across to the off-side before the ball is delivered looks unsound. But boy has he done well. It's hard to say how his technique would have fared in the days gone by when wickets were more sporting and bowlers better, but he can only play against the opposition of his time. It would be premature to suggest that he's an all-time-great batsman though: 5000-odd runs at an average of just over 50 is no great shakes these days.

  • POSTED BY dalboy12 on | December 4, 2012, 23:28 GMT

    It's funny I think test cricket is quite close at the moment, sure SA is out on top but as mentioned above they are beatable. Pakistan, Aussie, England and India on their day will all give them a go --- and none of these teams would be wise to underestimate NZ, Sri Lanka or WI either. The thing that is funny is that when one of the teams win at the moment they seem to win big. I agree that this was a close series and yet SA wiped Aussie of the park in Perth. England just thrashed India - yet got a good beating in the test before -- NZ turned around a thrashing in the first test in Sri Lanka to draw the series. So although close, there are some big test victories coming out at the moment.

  • POSTED BY kempy21 on | December 4, 2012, 23:28 GMT

    Mark, another excellent article, you are becoming a bit of a "must read" for me on this website. However I can't agree with you about du Plessis and the Man of the Series over Clarke. As heroic as Faf was in Adelaide, and then followed it up again in Perth, Clarke was by far the better performer over the three matches, with the bat and then as captain. Clarke is THE form batsman in the game at the moment and despite not being able to lead Australia to victory here was very worthy of his bestowed honour and if the improvement continues will have India and England peering over their shoulders as we approach their final straights. With good reason, this Australian side is coming home like a train.

  • POSTED BY big_al_81 on | December 4, 2012, 23:02 GMT

    Terrific article. Mark has always had a good knack for giving credit where it is due and also for not going over the top. I gave him the benefit of the doubt over Amla's birthplace, assuming that it's because of his style and technique that he compares him with Asian-born players - perhaps he meant of Asian extraction? But some people really do need to get Amla in perspective - he's a batsman in a purple patch over the last couple of years but he's not even the best batsman in his team let alone a world great yet. His numbers over his career just don't stack up in that league. Yet, at least. Steyn's numbers, now they really do and Kallis, well, what can you say about him - legend, legend, legend.

  • POSTED BY on | December 4, 2012, 22:58 GMT

    Beautiful article - enough said.

  • POSTED BY BlightyTragic on | December 4, 2012, 22:47 GMT

    South Africa do indeed have the potential to be mentioned in the same breath as those Windies and Australian teams. What will be pivotal is how they handle a post Kallis world and if they can produce a decent spinner. South Africa do not need a great turner of the ball, just someone who can give enough variation to confuse batsmen. But they are in no worse a situation than any other team at the moment. Perhaps only England possess a decent attacking spinner in Swann, whereas most other teams only have a slow bowler in support of their quicks. Narine may grow to test standard, Lyon couldn't spin the top off a rice pudding, and the Sub-Continent spinners only do well on dust bowls and the SCG. NZ desperately need Vettori back who also could be considered an attacking spinner who again beats batsmen in flight and variation. But i digress. SA wont have the any other real threats other than England and Aust for the next few years and that will be conditions dependant. Hope they do well.

  • POSTED BY rehmanf on | December 4, 2012, 22:33 GMT

    If Australia has to win next years Ashes, they need to get their batting order straight with Cowan, Warner, Clarke, Hussey, Khawaja/Ferguson, Watson, Haddin/Wade making up the top7 and be persistent with this line up. If they try and test punters replacement at 3 they will end up with the same result as this one.

  • POSTED BY Chris_Howard on | December 4, 2012, 22:20 GMT

    I found it a hard series to assess. We prepared flat tracks for the first two Tests to negate Steyn and co, and probably to ensure the series went down to the wire. IT's easy to forget too that RSA was hampered in both those Tests by serious injuries during them, and played most days a player down, sometimes two. Unfortunately for Australia, although only a player down for two days, it was the two that mattered most - those lat two in Adelaide. Brisbane was an embarrassment with it seeming like anyone who could pick up a bat could make a century. Adelaide showed why RSA is number one, being able to draw when nearly everything went against them. Perth was a pleasure as a cricket lover, watching the best team to play out here since the Windies of the early 80s. Excuse my cynicism, but a five Test series would be nice, but it would have meant Australia would have prepared roads for the first four Tests to keep the series alive - which keeps advertisers happy.

  • POSTED BY naphy23 on | December 4, 2012, 21:57 GMT

    Love Mark Nicholas but that bit on Amla is just ordinary. First of, it's factually wrong. Hash is third generation South African of Indian decent. Secondly, it suggests a distinction between great Asian born batsmen and great batsmen of other ethnicities. Great is great, period, that left a sour taste.

    Lastly, this whole article has a hint of reluctant praise. SA very good but not great because they lack a spinner. Does that matter if they keep winning? What say we see how long they can keep this up before we pass judgement. Steyn really good but less than Lillee. Yet he compares in every aspect and betters Lillee in some. Amla great but great among Asian borns. If you're gonna give it up to him, give him the whole damn thing without restricting it to one type.

  • POSTED BY on | December 4, 2012, 21:39 GMT

    A marvellous series. Best I have seen in over 65 years of playing, watching and umpiring the game. It had everything over the three tests. I'm a proud Kiwi, but also a proud Tasmanian by heritage (my father was born in Hobart) What Ricky Ponting has given to the world of cricket has been immense,I just hope CA recognize his contribution and use him in the the promotion of our glorious game world-wide.

  • POSTED BY noplay on | December 4, 2012, 21:15 GMT

    A short, sharp, compelling three-test narrative. But this piece- a too short, sharp compelling narrative. It is not often that I say "What? I have reached the end already?" As a West Indian I must also ask if those are John Arlott's words.

  • POSTED BY Josh1942 on | December 4, 2012, 19:33 GMT

    This is a great side - don't forget their record away from home. Not matched by those teams from WI Aand Australia. Lacking a very good spinner I agree.

  • POSTED BY Rally_Windies on | December 4, 2012, 19:28 GMT

    Denis Lillie ? Best of them all ? hogwash ...

    Marshal is EASILY heads above all fast bowlers ...

    Styne is the only fast bowler who might yet surpass Marshal...

    Marshal managed 5 fors and 10 fors at regular intervals in bowling company that would have robbed Lillie of at least 50 career wickets .....

    If Marshal had palyed for New Zealand, he might have finished with 600 wickets in 80 odd tests ...

  • POSTED BY adeng on | December 4, 2012, 18:43 GMT

    Good article, but like many others, I take some offense to Amla being 'Asian born'. The only naturalised citizen in the SA team is Imran Tahir. We are quite capable of home-grown champions!

  • POSTED BY on | December 4, 2012, 18:33 GMT

    Great article, Amla is certainly a batsman of the highest class and Steyn is on the verge of becoming a great fast bowler. One minor error, the quote attributed to John Arlott is taken from Beyond A Boundary by CLR James.

  • POSTED BY on | December 4, 2012, 18:18 GMT

    @Farooz You are missing the point as to why Amla is being put alongside Asian players in terms of his great use of wrists and style. He is being inducted in the halls that house the likes of VVS Laxman.

  • POSTED BY Sab0teur on | December 4, 2012, 17:50 GMT

    @Farooz-Agreed, and also, he is African born, a product of South Africa not Asia

  • POSTED BY Thamara on | December 4, 2012, 17:45 GMT

    Although SA won the series, I think in the first two matches Australia played far better than SA. Unfortunately, Australia couldn't win the third match which turned out to be the decisive match of the series. Although SA's batting was solid throughout the series, their bowling only lived up to the expectations in the third match. Australia paid for not selecting the best bowlers for the third match whereas South Africa stuck with the same team and in the end it came off. Perth pitch was tailor-made for Morkal and Steyn. Even though SA won the series, I don't think they outplayed Australia in the series. Australia can also take away a lot of positives from this series.

  • POSTED BY on | December 4, 2012, 17:44 GMT

    At the risk of sounding like I'm denigrating the great carreer of Ricky Ponting, may I point out that his decline has been a lot longer than many people are aware of. Between 1995 and 2006 he was as good a player statistically and certainly aesthetically that there has ever been. At the end of 2006 he averaged very nearly 60 and had made 33 hundreds. Since then his numbers have been: 2007 4 6 1 192 56 38.40 2008 14 25 0 1182 158 47.28 2009 13 23 1 853 150 38.77 2010 12 23 1 813 209 36.95 2011 7 13 0 415 78 31.92 2012 9 15 1 600 221 42.85 In these 6 years in average dropped to a merely creditable 40 and he scored 8 tons. It is perhaps worth noting that Kallis, same age same length of career averaged 55 with 24 tons from 1995-2006 and then since 2007 has averaged nearly 60 with a further 20 tons. It strikes me as a significant and long decline and perhaps an indication that Kallis still has some way to go as a batsman if he can remain fit.

  • POSTED BY on | December 4, 2012, 17:41 GMT

    Great Article, Kirsten still regards this very, very good team as work in progress. Great read Mark!

  • POSTED BY DonBrown on | December 4, 2012, 17:10 GMT

    The West Indies Team of the 1980s had four incredible fast bowlers with about a dozen more waiting in the wings. How they could use some of those substitutes now. The great Australian team had one Shane Warne alongside Glen Mcgrath.Again how badly do Australia miss them. Smith and his team deserve this victory. The way they fought to save the 2nd test is worthy of a champion. They dealt some serious body blows to Australia in that game and Australia never recovered. Amla is simply class in all formats of the game. He is poetic in action and makes batting looks so easy regardless of the surface.

    What can be said about Kallis,I notice that the word great is not used with him as is done with Ponting,Tendulkar and Lara. Kallis is a modern day great. It will be difficult to find another player of his class anywhere across the world. He bats, he bowls and he is one of the best slipper. South Africa too will suffer when he decides to leave. Sad to see Ponting leave on that note.

  • POSTED BY Paulk on | December 4, 2012, 16:13 GMT

    Very nice article again, thank you. I believe the comparison of Amla to "Asian born batsmen" is not so much literal as a comparison of styles of great Asian batsmen whose wristy style is distinctive. Mr. Nicholas does not say Amla is Asian born but is comparing his style and cricketing culture to the great Asian born stylists - Zaheer Abbas, Viswanath, Inzamam, VVS, Tendulkar, Dravid, Azhar etc.

  • POSTED BY on | December 4, 2012, 15:49 GMT

    Poetry by Mark Nicholas. Beautifully written.

    The shorter form of the game can just never compete with the drama and tension of test match cricket. India vs SA, Aus vs SA, Eng vs SA and now again Aus vs SA. Each of those couldn't have been scripted any better.

  • POSTED BY InsideHedge on | December 4, 2012, 15:47 GMT

    I disagree with those who think Steyn is as good as Marshall. First, let Steyn complete his career, only then can any sort of comparison take place. He may well end up being comparable, who knows, perhaps even better.....but not at this moment.

  • POSTED BY Greatest_Game on | December 4, 2012, 15:21 GMT

    Indeed. Hashim Amla is South Africa born and raised. Why he should be "discussed alongside all the great Asian-born batsmen of the age" makes no sense. He should be discussed alongside all the great batsmen of the age.

    No-one is calling for Trott, KP, Prior, Strauss, Compton and Co. to be discussed alongside all the great African-born batsmen of the age. If so how far back would the discussion go? Flower, Lamb, Greig, D'Oliveira? The concept does seem really silly, does it not?

    Also, Amla could have made hundred in the day 2 final session if Clarke had not delayed the game with protracted and unnecessary fielding changes in the final overs. Ten minutes to get through an over! Is it reasonable to blame Kallis for that? In the 3 overs before the close Amla did take strike, & chose to run a single 3 times instead of waiting for boundaries. He and Kallis had their eye on their opponent, and not on a record. Clarke, it would appear, was more aware of the record than were the SA batsmen.

  • POSTED BY on | December 4, 2012, 15:08 GMT

    Debatable as to whether S.A are very,very good or great.Comparisons are odious but the nearest would be the great Aussie team of recent history.The Aussies would be slightly better front runners whilst S.A would be possibly better away considering that they haven't lost away since 2006.Also S.A are probably better at scrapping for draws if necessary.My combined team would be-

    Smith,Hayden,Ponting,Amla,Kallis,DeVilliers,S.Waugh,Gilchrist,Warne,Steyn,Morkel,Mcgrath.Overall the Aussies have a slight edge due to the Warne factor-its just possible though that the current S.A team is actually a great one.

  • POSTED BY on | December 4, 2012, 14:20 GMT

    "Amla must now be discussed alongside all the great Asian-born batsmen of the age." Not sure what this means as Amla should be discussed among All Great Batsmen, PERIOD!!

  • POSTED BY on | December 4, 2012, 14:09 GMT

    Great article, but there is one factual error that must be pointed out.Amla is not "Asian-born", he was born in Durban and is of Indian descent like millions of other South Africans!Still, great article!

  • POSTED BY rocknrola on | December 4, 2012, 14:09 GMT

    Great article. SA needs a quality spinner to make them unbeatable and lower the burden of their quicks.

  • POSTED BY Percy_Fender on | December 4, 2012, 14:03 GMT

    A beautifully said piece. Just a point I would like to make. Steyn is comparable with Malcolm Marshall in every way. I think he was a touch better than Dennis Lillee. Now that will tell everyone how good Steyn is. We are indeed privileged to have seen him. There are not many like him at the moment.

  • POSTED BY gerrardl on | December 4, 2012, 13:38 GMT

    Hashim Amla - born in Durban, South Africa. Why would you want to compare him only to the great Asian-born batsmen of the age?!?! He is one of the world's best batsmen, born anywhere, in any age.

    Come on Mark - expect better.

  • POSTED BY on | December 4, 2012, 13:35 GMT

    It's as much a pleasure reading Mark Nicholas as it is to listen to his commentary!

  • POSTED BY on | December 4, 2012, 13:34 GMT

    Mark - lovely bit of writing! Question: why do you describe Amla as "Asian-born"? He was born in Durban, South Africa. His parents are also South African born.

  • POSTED BY Grantieboi on | December 4, 2012, 13:33 GMT

    Always look out for your article, pleasure to read.

  • POSTED BY Essex_Man on | December 4, 2012, 13:18 GMT

    Nice article, Mark. I agree; that brilliant, daring knock by Amla in the second innings was pivotal. He really is a joy to watch.

    I think your conclusion is right about South Africa being a very, very good side but not a great one - but most sides will not be up to the mark in comparison to the West Indies of the 80s or the Aussies of the late 90s. Those exceptional sides aren't going to be repeated very often! It's actually much better for world cricket fans that there isn't a totally dominant team at the moment as it'll lead to a constant tussle for the mace (as there has been recently with Aus, SA, Eng and India all having been number one in recent years).

    By the way, isn't that quote which you attribute to John Arlott actually one of CLR James's?

  • POSTED BY TommytuckerSaffa on | December 4, 2012, 12:58 GMT

    What a superb piece Mark Nicholas and it was a pleasure to listen to you in the commentary team to provide some sort of balance. (Tubbs and co. talking about chasing down 632 on this great batting track...no mention of the class of bowlers to do it against though)

    Youre dead right, the draw in the 2nd test took it out of the aussies mentallly and phyically. The slugged and fought so hard yet the enemy refused to die, they gave it their all but their all wasnt quite good enough against this classy Saffa side.

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  • POSTED BY TommytuckerSaffa on | December 4, 2012, 12:58 GMT

    What a superb piece Mark Nicholas and it was a pleasure to listen to you in the commentary team to provide some sort of balance. (Tubbs and co. talking about chasing down 632 on this great batting track...no mention of the class of bowlers to do it against though)

    Youre dead right, the draw in the 2nd test took it out of the aussies mentallly and phyically. The slugged and fought so hard yet the enemy refused to die, they gave it their all but their all wasnt quite good enough against this classy Saffa side.

  • POSTED BY Essex_Man on | December 4, 2012, 13:18 GMT

    Nice article, Mark. I agree; that brilliant, daring knock by Amla in the second innings was pivotal. He really is a joy to watch.

    I think your conclusion is right about South Africa being a very, very good side but not a great one - but most sides will not be up to the mark in comparison to the West Indies of the 80s or the Aussies of the late 90s. Those exceptional sides aren't going to be repeated very often! It's actually much better for world cricket fans that there isn't a totally dominant team at the moment as it'll lead to a constant tussle for the mace (as there has been recently with Aus, SA, Eng and India all having been number one in recent years).

    By the way, isn't that quote which you attribute to John Arlott actually one of CLR James's?

  • POSTED BY Grantieboi on | December 4, 2012, 13:33 GMT

    Always look out for your article, pleasure to read.

  • POSTED BY on | December 4, 2012, 13:34 GMT

    Mark - lovely bit of writing! Question: why do you describe Amla as "Asian-born"? He was born in Durban, South Africa. His parents are also South African born.

  • POSTED BY on | December 4, 2012, 13:35 GMT

    It's as much a pleasure reading Mark Nicholas as it is to listen to his commentary!

  • POSTED BY gerrardl on | December 4, 2012, 13:38 GMT

    Hashim Amla - born in Durban, South Africa. Why would you want to compare him only to the great Asian-born batsmen of the age?!?! He is one of the world's best batsmen, born anywhere, in any age.

    Come on Mark - expect better.

  • POSTED BY Percy_Fender on | December 4, 2012, 14:03 GMT

    A beautifully said piece. Just a point I would like to make. Steyn is comparable with Malcolm Marshall in every way. I think he was a touch better than Dennis Lillee. Now that will tell everyone how good Steyn is. We are indeed privileged to have seen him. There are not many like him at the moment.

  • POSTED BY rocknrola on | December 4, 2012, 14:09 GMT

    Great article. SA needs a quality spinner to make them unbeatable and lower the burden of their quicks.

  • POSTED BY on | December 4, 2012, 14:09 GMT

    Great article, but there is one factual error that must be pointed out.Amla is not "Asian-born", he was born in Durban and is of Indian descent like millions of other South Africans!Still, great article!

  • POSTED BY on | December 4, 2012, 14:20 GMT

    "Amla must now be discussed alongside all the great Asian-born batsmen of the age." Not sure what this means as Amla should be discussed among All Great Batsmen, PERIOD!!