Amla the great

The innings of the first Test (between England and South Africa) was played by Hashim Amla, who became the first South African to score a triple century.

The first Test between the top two teams in the world, South Africa and England, showed why cricket is as much a game of mental strength as it is of cricketing skills. When Day One ended, England were in a pretty good position having lost just three wickets for 267 runs and with Alastair Cook batting on 114 — his 20th century. Knowing Cook’s appetite for big scores, England would have slept soundly. There was also Kevin Pietersen, who always tries very hard against South Africa, his country of birth. England had plenty of batting to come and so were in a comfortable position.

On the second day, however, the South African fast bowlers, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, worked up good pace and extracted a fair bit of bounce from what looked like a placid pitch, and England collapsed. Matt Prior took them closer to 400 and so the pressure was on the South Africans.

Just as England had lost their skipper Andrew Strauss for a duck in the first over, South Africa too lost Alviro Petersen for a duck. That was the last success England had for a long time, as Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla built the South African innings before taking the England bowling apart.

Smith joined the small band of batsmen who scored a century in their 100th Test.

However, the innings of the first Test was played by Amla, who became the first South African to score a triple century. He did it without any fuss and in an unhurried manner. When Amla first toured England he struggled to come to terms with the swing and movement, and with his awkward looking back-lift and feet position he got out cheaply. This led to a hue and cry that his selection was because of the quota system where a certain number of black or coloured players had to be picked in the South African national teams. Remember, most of the media in South Africa, especially the sports media, are still predominantly white and so they are quick to run down a non-white player if he fails in a couple of Tests.

Ashwell Prince, who has a good Test record, has fallen foul of those who matter in South African cricket, so Jacques Rudolph, who turned his back on South Africa and opted to play county cricket by the ‘Kolpak Rule’, has got extended opportunities. Rudolph failed as an opener on his comeback, but he has been persisted with down the order despite failures. He finally got a century in New Zealand which earned him selection to the current team. That Duminy was picked for the Test to bat at No. 7 tells you much more about reverse apartheid, as some of the former South African players of the apartheid era call the inclusion of non-white players in the team. What Amla has shown is how many potential greats South Africa missed during the apartheid days when only whites could represent South Africa.

Luckily in the team, there is no remnant of the feeling and Amla is hugely admired not just for his cricket, but for the person that he is. The South African board even accepted his request not to wear the logo of the team sponsor on his shirt because it was an alcohol brand and Amla, being a devout Muslim, does not drink.

Once again cricket has shown that it is a game where nobody is the master and anything can happen. Let me end by wishing Sportstar all the best in its new avatar. You can have as much T20 as you want, but a Test match is the ultimate and so is Sportstar.