Cricket: England v South Africa

Performance of The Day: Hashim Amla

Amla wore England's bowlers down with a monumental display of patience and skill

Performance of The Day: Hashim Amla

Alastair Cook said after he made his hundred on the first day that the most important quality a batsman needed on this slow Oval pitch was patience. And South Africa’s Hashim Amla showed precisely that virtue in compiling a monumental 183 not out in 369 balls on a day of gentle English sunshine which was just perfect for batting.

A tall, willowy Muslim sporting an enormous bushy beard, Amla is a colourful contrast to the burly, cussed South African men who so often bat alongside him. Graeme Smith’s bullishness, bloody-mindedness and inelegance are a far cry from Amla’s grace and restraint. In their stand of 259, there is little doubt which player gave the most pleasure to the cricket watcher.

What most impresses about Amla’s batting is his calmness. Graeme Swann, by far England’s greatest threat on a pitch which offered nothing for the seamers, and Amla nullified him, offering over after over of dead bats to his probing deliveries. Later in the day, Amla received his reward for hours of patience with some rare loose stuff from Swann. A half volley went through cover for four and a full toss followed it.

Amla has form for making big scores on this type of slow, almost sub-continental pitch. On the 2010 tour of India, he made 490 runs in two Test matches against a very good attack, containing Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh and the legspinner Mishra.

In the Nagpur Test his marathon innings of 253* - which he could yet surpass here at The Oval – set up an innings win. But his performance in the 2nd Test at Kolkota was even more remarkable. South Africa collapsed twice, losing the Test match by an innings. But Amla scored two hundreds. In the second-innings, the next-best score to his undefeated 123 was a measly 23.

That series was a major breakthrough for Amla. He showed the stamina for making big scores which had eluded him before. In just two games, he batted for 1,402 minutes and faced 1,033 deliveries.

His batting average this decade (2010-2012) is the third highest in world cricket behind his two fellow South Africans, Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers, which is a measure of how he has exceeded expectations as a Test batsman.

After his first 30 Tests, Amla averaged under 40, but for his last 30 he averages close to 57, which is more in the Tendulkar and Kallis league. Jonathan Trott may disagree, but Amla is arguably the best number three in world cricket following the retirement of Rahul Dravid and the diminution in Ricky Ponting’s powers.

Certainly, he is a more complete player than Trott. In one-day cricket, Trott scores a lot of runs but at a strike rate in the seventies. Amla is the world’s number one ODI batsman with an average of 57 and a strike rate of 91.

There were few signs of this flamboyance in this huge innings at The Oval, which drew parallels with Alastair Cook’s near perfection on the first day. On a flat pitch, England were as toothless as South Africa had been in bowling at Cook’s broad bat.

Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad would have revelled in the muggy atmosphere of day two, but there was no iota of swing as Amla waited patiently for the bad balls, then put them away. The ease with which he played gave the impression that England were short of their best form, but in truth the consummate batting and perfect pitch combined to make the bowling look ordinary.

When Bresnan bowled wide of the stumps, Amla waited to the last possible moment before putting him away through point; when Broad strayed to legside, he leg-glanced with his lovely Ranjitsinhji-like flick of the wrist. There were not that many bad balls from England’s seamers. It just appeared that way.

When Amla had made 143, Broad beat him with a Glenn McGrath-like delivery on off stump, which moved a bat’s width to beat the edge. It was one of the few lapses of a beautiful innings and the closest he came to being dismissed.

Whilst most of England will be celebrating some semblance of a summer’s day, England’s bowlers will be praying for clouds and showers to freshen up the pitch and provide some assistance to their swing. Otherwise, the dogged persistence of this wonderful South African batting line-up, which in many ways mirrors the qualities of England’s line-up, will continue to frustrate them on the fourth day. And Amla will be eyeing a second Test innings of 250-plus.