We all know, Hashim Amla is a fluent striker of the cricket ball and not one of those batters who would hang around the park without scoring runs for a long time. But his batting on Day 2 was attritional, with which, many were not accustomed to.
Slow and steady wins the race, some might say, but on many occasions, like the one displayed in the second innings at Port Elizabeth, it can lead to prolonged ‘sessions’ of frustration, boredom and annoyance. A perfect day of Test cricket under slow but not as hostile batting conditions was almost foiled by the tenacious knocks of Hashim Amla and Dean Elgar, who crawled at a miserly rate of 1.65 runs per over to notch up gritty half centuries, that refused to garner as much of a praise as it ideally should have.
43 runs in the middle session, with two fours and no wickets, could have been a partnership that earned lavish admiration if the match situation was vastly different, but when South Africa needed to get their momentum up going and with reverse-swing soon to arise in the picture, Elgar and Amla’s innings threatened to rob sports lovers of the much-needed action on a bright and sunny stadium on Saturday. With the only element that kept the crowds from slumbering away – the famous band that visits every game at PE – being asked to exit due to the umpire’s inability to hear nicks, the onus was left to Elgar and Amla to revive the spectators, without much success.
Going ultra-defensive has never been the way to go in South Africa anyway. As has been in the norm in the nation, strike-rates of below 40 have never gotten much of a result and even though many can suggest that Elgar’s strike-rate of 28.93 and Amla’s 37.84 silenced the threat of the menacing Aussie bowlers, who were in fine form throughout the session, the truth is the unconventional knock from two batsmen who love bringing out the fluency in their batting, only pulled South Africa back. Once the ball started reverse-swinging, the loss of four quick wickets undone all the efforts of the duo and had it not been for AB de Villiers’ knock of 74 in just 81 deliveries, the hosts would have been struggling in the series. With the maverick reinforcing the importance of counter-attack in the slow pitches of South Africa again, the knocks by Elgar and Amla only left one further flabbergasted.
Amla, seemed, unlike his normal self, choosing the ultra-defensive route to get back to form. He was particularly stiff off his back foot and nicked several edges that failed to carry to the fielders. Though he began with a four, it was in no way a signal to what would lie ahead. He started off defending well but a beautifully crafted delivery by Pat Cummins that was bowled to create an illusion of the delivery angling in when it instead held its line, lured the batsman into a drive, just allowing him a minor escape from finding an edge, broke his momentum and just three deliveries later, the DRS saved him from going back to the hut.
The out-swingers, that are usually left alone, on more occasions than one threatened to scalp his wicket. With his weight on the back-foot, he was unable to reach out to a Cummins’ out-swinger fully, just barely escaping from edging one to the fielders. His back-foot defence against Nathon Lyon was on point but was troubled by an off-colour Mitchell Starc, who only came into his own once the ball started reverse swinging.
His nemesis Josh Hazlewood channelled a delivery into the player, but Amla was unable to get behind the angle, edging to Smith at second slip, who dived to his right and was able to get a hand to it. By the end of the second session, he was darting back and forth – with the Aussies making him dance on the front and the back foot at will and even though the bearded batsman showed resolve, his fifty was as untraditional as one would expect from him.
He was eventually cleaned up by Starc with a full yorker and the player departed after a bizarre innings, which did show his intent in sticking out in tough conditions, but it did leave one wondering that sans de Villiers’ gallant knock towards the end, Amla’s tough knock could only have pegged down the hosts more than one could anticipate.