Zimbabwe v South Africa, only Test, Harare, 4th day August 12, 2014

Amla applauds SA for 'smart cricket'

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'Lead was extremely important on this surface' - Amla

It is no secret that the skill of a chameleon is to change colour according to what will serve as its best camouflage. The same can be said of some cricket teams, especially one that holds the record for the longest winning streak on the road in two decades, which will stretch to nine years by the time they play their next away game.

South Africa's victory in Zimbabwe means that when they travel to Bangladesh in 2015, they would have gone 13 series and one one-off Test without losing abroad. That is the second longest unbeaten period of all time behind West Indies, who went 17 series and a one-off match without losing between 1980 and 1995.

So it is no surprise that one of South Africa's greatest pleasures from their Harare heist is that they did it in conditions that they would not have considered comfortable.

"We haven't been able to play the type of cricket that we normally play. We've had to adapt a lot. We've had to play smart cricket to get the job done," the captain Hashim Amla said. "Winning in four days is as big a victory as you get, especially on this type of surface."

On a pitch which served to stunt free-flowing play rather than facilitate it, South Africa chose to employ a conservative approach rather than an attacking one because they decided that was the best way of coming out on the right side. They wanted to bat just once and almost did that with a first innings that flirted with 400 and was an exercise in clinical carefulness against an equally circumspect attack.

"To get a lead was important because we could hold the game for a long period of time," Amla said. "It's difficult to come in to bat if someone is bowling quite wide outside off stump with a packed offside field and just have a go and tonk it over mid-off or cover."

The run-rate that stagnated at two an over was the perfect foil to Zimbabwe's disciplined lines and lengths. It was what Amla thought stopped South Africa from a reckless unraveling. "We found it really difficult to score because of their plans," he said. "They certainly went on the whole patience route and the way we matched that with patience and the way we batted was special.

"We could have tried to take the game to them and showed them you shouldn't be bowling that way, and next thing you know you're six wickets down. We found ourselves 150 for four which is a delicate situation."

Where South Africa did attack was with the ball, it was in a department they do not usually dominate in. Dane Piedt registered the best figures by a South African spinner on debut, to follow-on from a domestic season in which he was the highest wicket-taker overall.

Although Piedt had conditions that suited him, he still has to use them craftily and Amla was pleased with the control the spinner showed. "He bowled exceptionally well. The wicket did turn and offered a lot of assistance to the spinners, but he bowled brilliantly. He stuck to good lines and I managed to set a good field and he did the rest," Amla said.

Piedt described the experience as a "dream debut," and hoped to work on his control in the future. "I spoke to (South Africa's spin consultant) Claude Henderson and we just spoke about being patient even though there's a lot of assistance," Piedt said. "Wickets are a reward for a lot of patience being shown."

For Piedt, the wait has not been too long. Last season was his first full outing as a franchise cricketer in South Africa - having being used between the Cobras and the amateur side before that - and he soared into contention for national selection with his showings.

After traveling as a reserve to Sri Lanka, he debuted in Zimbabwe and has done enough to keep his place. He will be the biggest positive South Africa take out of their last month away from home.

For other teams, much more patience needs to be shown to dethrone South Africa especially when they are visiting. South Africa are kings of the road and will be for a while yet. But under Amla, that is not the most important consideration. As he explained, just being kings is enough.

"It's a wonderful record to have but if you hang to records you will always be scared to push victories and you might sacrifice wining a game because of that," Amla said. "We want to try and win as many games as possible. Going forward we won't hold on to this. We don't want it to become such a factor that it changes our decision to win the game."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • David on August 14, 2014, 3:21 GMT

    @ nafzak. I applaud your post, & the valid points you made. Graeme Smith built the platform on which Hashim Amla stands. The team he leads is Smith's legacy. Smith harnessed the talents of Kallis, Steyn, Pollock, Boucher, de Villiers, Amla, etc, and, from the front, led them to success: all the way to the top!

    Amla struggled at first. After 6 series/15 tests/ 29 innings, he averaged 25.5. HALF his scores were UNDER 11. Most captains would have axed him - 15 tests is more of a chance than most ever get.

    But Smith believed in him, believed he had greatness in him. After his next test Amla's ave passed 30. 14 tests later it passed 40 ... then past 50. Hash became a run machine, an ODI phenomenon, fastest to 2000, 3000, & 4000 runs by huge margins, & finally ranked No. 1 in both formats. When Smith retired, his wisdom & judgment were vindicated: the man he believed in now wears his mantle.

    Amla would be first to defend Smith against ill informed & disrespectful armchair critics!

  • David on August 13, 2014, 20:14 GMT

    @ __PK. Your unrelenting criticism cannot disguise the fact that South Africa win by playing smart cricket. In post after post you trash SA, never acknowledging the fact that they WIN. The result is unimportant - the only cricket you approve of is "attack, attack & attack, at all costs attack, forget the outcome, just attack!" For example, you bring up the Durban test every time you can. Commenting on Firdose's article "South Africa opt for substance over style," you called SA "gutless." You then wrote "I'd be embarrassed to get that close and not even try. Wouldn't you be?"

    I'd be embarrassed to get that close & lose! Wouldn't you? Seemingly, you would not!

    Here you wrote "That's like saying the zebra chose to wear stripes," which begs the question "did you choose to be an unrelenting critic, out to trash SA at every opportunity, or are you so blinded by a deeply entrenched & rigid doctrinal view of cricket that you can't see the trees for the forest?"

  • Mohamed on August 13, 2014, 17:56 GMT

    I love everything about Amla. I am West Indian and a Muslim and Amla does and says all the right things. He is a good ambassador for South Africa and for all Muslims. That said, I have to chide Mr. Ahmad Uetian, who I would guess, love Mr. Amla for similar reasons as yours truly, but who chose to belittle another Great South african player/captain, in order to prove how Great Amla is or will be. Couple of truths for Mr. A. Uetian - 1. Amla record will stand on its own merit and not because someone else was less of a player/captain. 2. Team win matches not individual players (case in point, Brian Lara) and 3. Amla just started in this phase of his career as captain & as much as he is loved, the fact is that the jury is still out on his captainicy. When he faces adversity (and he will) and SA loses a few matches or a series or 2 or he goes into a personal slump withthe bat, we'll learn a lot more about Amla. Meanwhile, let's just enjoy the cricket! Mohamed Z. Rahaman

  • Cricinfouser on August 13, 2014, 12:03 GMT

    Ahmad Uetian writes, "Smith's defensive captaincy & poor batting hampered SA progess" I could never agree to that. Please get your stats right. FYKI, Smith was the one who lead from the front every time SA were in trouble, along with some of the SA greats. In that process, He laid a foundation to what SA Cricket has achieved today (Number 1 ranking). He still holds a number of a Test records which remain unbroken even as I type this. From having the most number of Test matches captained (109) to having the most number of Test wins as captain (50). What has this guy not achieved in Test Cricket? & you tell me that his apparent 'defensive captaincy & poor batting' dented SA's progress? It's just insane to say so.

  • Faan on August 13, 2014, 7:26 GMT

    What a small minded comment @Ahmad Uetian. Smith was brilliant in his own right, just like Amla. He led us from severe inconsistency to number 1. Look at at his stats in second innings batting and vs someone like Hayden overall. Add to that his leadership responsibilities. SA owe a massive debt of gratitude to the man. Amla, I'm sure, is going to be great btw.

  • Dummy4 on August 13, 2014, 7:23 GMT

    HAHA _PK, funny but true.

  • Steven on August 13, 2014, 2:58 GMT

    I don't blame zimbos for playing like that I don't like negative play but zimbos have agood reason for doing unlike other teams they don't have the skills so they have to do what's best for them and try to make the game last as long as they can with there medium pace bowlers they ain't going to rip through sides so patience and keeping things tight is they right tactics for the there spinners the fields should be more attacking at times and when they bat they should be more aggressive at times cos they don't have the techniques to survive for long so they might as well score while they are out there cos it's always a worry when Brendon Taylor fails then a 250 score turns into a180score there's no one to back him up it's one man team that's for sure

  • Paul on August 12, 2014, 21:27 GMT

    They "chose" to employ a conservative approach? That's like saying the zebra chose to wear stripes.

  • Dummy4 on August 12, 2014, 20:26 GMT

    G8 captaincy wel done Amla........................Now he will show how much potential this SA unit has................................Smith's defensive captaincy & poor batting hampered SA progess

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