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Mon Apr 21 06:33:38 SAST 2014

Tribute to a cricket great

Barry Richards | 24 July, 2012 06:310 Comments

HATS off to Hashim Amla, from me more than most.

When Amla started, that backlift twirl was a source of great concern for me. I believed it would lead to a short test career.

How wrong I was. Hard work on technique and an iron temperament have fashioned him into one of the best batsmen in the world, and the first South African to score 300 in a test innings.

England were slaughtered and even their trump card, Graeme Swann, was reduced to being a bit player. Welcome to reality when facing two of the best in Amla and Jacques Kallis.

Many were sceptical about the lead-in and the trip to Switzerland was not totally embraced, but take a bow, Mike Horn, the ex-South African explorer and motivational speaker who spent some days with the team.

Seizing the moment is all good and well, but what I noticed was how, once the foot was on the throat, there was no letting up.

If anything, South Africa went in even harder, something that is more difficult than you might think.

So often a careless shot while in charge opens the floodgates to defeat. Witness Kevin Pietersen in England's first innings: 500 should have been the score posted.

It was not, and Amla and Kallis showed how to turn the screws when the opportunity presents itself. That would have been a trademark of Mike Horn, a man of whom many cricket followers would scarcely have heard.

South Africa have been outstanding except for day one, when perhaps the occasion got to them. From day two, it has been a clinical and precise performance.

First, Smith - in belligerent form - posted a 100 in his 100th test, a feat somewhat overshadowed by Amla's. But it was one of the captain's best innings and stands him in good stead for the entire series.

Kallis was again a rock. I shudder when I think of his retirement - he will be impossible to replace.

Finally Amla, who now stands among the very best of the day. South Africa are blessed to have a 3, 4 and 5 in the batting order of the calibre of Amla, Kallis and AB de Villiers. South Africa are poised to become the best cricket side in the world.

What a difference a day makes. South Africa are now all smiles but, as we saw at Royal Lytham, nothing should be taken for granted. Sport can bring people to their knees.

England are shell-shocked and one wonders how they will come back. They will not have a better wicket to bat first on and they blew their chance. It was a belter, a 500 wicket, and from 260/2, they threw it away.

England got a wicket in the third over of South Africa's innings, but then laboured 186 overs for a solitary wicket. Considering their much-vaunted attack, it was a real downer and England's confidence was well down by the start of the last day.

James Anderson bowled with heart, but Stuart Broad was military medium and a shadow of the bowler of the last 12 months. Tim Bresnan is an honest trier, but there are sure to be a few changes as Steven Finn and Graham Onions await their turn. It might come sooner than they think. England are rattled and need a big injection of confidence. Perhaps a quick trip to Switzerland is the answer.

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