Amla reaching the 300 mark was a question of when, not if

2012-07-27 00:00

IT has taken a South African 77 years to breach the 300 Test run mark in an innings, but the fact that it was Hashim Amla who got there first is not surprising. It was a question of when, not if.

Since 1998, when Gary Kirsten began the march to the coveted 300 with the 210 he made at Old Trafford, England have been the central theme in South Africa’s run scoring feats. Then there was Graeme Smith with the 277 at Edgbaston five years later. There must be something about English pitches and first Tests that get Amla ticking.

India could learn something from him in terms of getting out of the blocks like Yohan Blake instead of Usain Bolt. Bolt always catches up and eventually blitzes his competitors though, much like Amla does when facing the first hurdle in a series.

Scores of 104*, 159, 100 and 253* in the first matches of a series against India and England since 2008 tell the tale of an unassuming run machine who gives the impression that he is not far from giving his wicket away. Many a number three have had an imposing and fearsome presence at the crease and often sides shuddered at the thought of taking the first wicket, only to have a rabid batsman set upon them like army ants on a scorpion.

Besides the recently retired Rahul Dravid, who in a way could be termed as an unattractive but very effective first drop sans the artistry, but had the sheer bloody-mindedness and technique to succeed, number threes have struck fear into opposing teams’ hearts and minds.

In his prime, Ricky Ponting cut, pulled and hooked the living daylights out of any stray Test side that wandered into his crosshairs. His record in India may always be the black mark jutting out in his impressive CV, but all batsmen have their bugbear places where they would rather be elsewhere.

West Indian Richie Richardson square-drove bowlers to distraction and had always saved his best for Australia, against whom he scored nine of his 16 Test hundreds. No Frank Worrell trophy series was completed without a Richardson century from 1984 to 1995. However, they did not tick the 300 box and Ponting is not about to do so.

For Amla though, scoring that unbeaten 311 against England must be deeply satisfying, for it was the selfsame English under Michael Vaughn who schooled him in the nuances of Test cricket. Then it was an unedifying sight watching Amla squirming under the vicious short ball attacks Stephen Harmison and Andrew Flintoff subjected him to.

Not much has changed in his batting armoury, except for the fact that England have had to pay the price in every subsequent series, culminating in his marathon effort this past weekend. India have also been on the receiving end, and belying his down-to-earth, modest demeanour, Amla seems to have to have this burning intent to settle his early career scores.

This can only be good thing for South African cricket, as it is a cricketing nation that is not known for putting the jackboot on an opponent’s throat. Slowly though, especially in the Test arena, that is changing. While the foregoing may not apply as much in the one-day arena, Amla and AB de Villiers are leading a pack of wolves who spare no carcasses. Batting was the post-isolation bugbear with the bowling and tenacious lower-order batting having to work overtime to remedy the 100/5 syndrome. Any side with a Test triple centurion must have have a scary look to it and the 22 batsmen who have crossed the barrier are Test cricketing royalty. Not even Sachin Tendulkar with all his 100 international centuries can mark out a Test 300.

Whether or not Amla kicks on from this achievement remains to be seen. He tends to taper off after his customary big starts, but with him at first drop, South African cricket is in safe hands.

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