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Hashim Amla storms to form, AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis fight it out for SA

911   //    04 Jan 2016, 21:41 IST
It was as if Amla had been waiting for 2016 to come, so that he could spring to form again

Sometimes in sport, like in life, all you need is a fresh start, and suddenly everything starts making sense. You start hitting the right shots, you start avoiding the bad ones, and all of a sudden, the luck that had kicked you in the face for all those days starts kissing your feet.

For those who don’t believe in such a transience, the play from day 3 of the second Test between South Africa and England should suffice as a perfect example.

At stumps on day 2, the home side was 141/2, with two of their best batsmen trying to avoid another one to the series of successive disappointments that their team has had since losing the World Cup semifinal.

Not only did their batting core of Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis return to form, they did so in a manner as if to tell the world exactly why they had been the No. 1 Test side in the world.

The partnerships suddenly started building up and the batsmen looked like they had been batting for ages. The much-awaited change that their entire nation, and the cricketing world at large, were seeking, finally came with the onset of the new year.

De Villiers-Amla perform

What transpired today, was a show of pure class, courage, and temperament, after being stroked away by Ben Stokes on the previous day. Amla and De Villiers began the day at their personal scores of 64 and 25, with SA still trailing by 488 runs.

Trailing had become a familiar story for their side of late, but the new year brought fresh fortunes for them, especially Amla, who stormed to form through the typical Amla-Esque century- an innings of grit, patience, and strokeplay.

The duo added 58 runs in the first session in 29 overs, treading with extreme caution against perhaps the most potent bowling attack as of now- the trio of James Anderson, Stuart Broad, and Steven Finn. SA finished unscathed at lunch on 199/2, with Amla slowly but steadily having marched his way to 91, and de Villiers having just completed his fifty.

The moment came in the post-lunch session for the Proteas skipper, as he cut a wide delivery over point to bring up arguably one of his most difficult and most testing hundreds- his 24th in total, and in the process, also passing the landmark of 7000 Test runs being fifth on the list behind Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith, AB de Villiers, and Gary Kirsten.

That list of leading run scorers was further amended as de Villiers brought up 8000 Test runs as well, behind only Kallis and Smith. It wasn’t as easily done as this has been written, as despite being a flat track, this South African revival had plenty of luck coming their way.

Anderson dropped Amla in the slips off part-time bowler Joe Root, and Nick Compton dropped the centurion again when he cut fiercely at a wide Finn delivery of which Compton had a late vision.

Luck didn’t go all the way, though, as the short ball tactics, one of many that England tried to break the Amla-de Villiers glue did work, as the former captain miscued a short ball from Finn and a diving Jimmy plucked the ball out of thin air at mid-on. At Tea, the score was 290/3, and despite all the heroics, SA were still trailing by 339 runs.

Du Plessis-Amla carry on

It was opening for England of which they could do nothing, as a determined Faf du Plessis strode out to accompany the ‘Mighty Hash’ post Tea, and carried on from there, to such an extent, that at one stage Alex Hales was given the ball, who was hailed as ‘right-arm optimistic’ by Michael Holding on commentary.

By the third session, the effects of a long day in the field and the solitary wicket for the day had started showing its effects on the English fielders as a leading edge off Du Plessis’ bat was not spotted by Finn at midwicket, that left England’s all-time leading wicket-taker, absolutely frustrated.

Overthrows added to insult to the injury of letting themselves down in the field for England, as the South African T20 captain and the Test captain played freely, punishing the tired England bowlers, and in the process, fortifying their position in the Test. The session also saw Du Plessis complete his 50 off 104 balls.

This new year’s Test has been an absolute paradise for the batsmen so far, as three of the best fast bowlers in world cricket today- Anderson, Broad, and Morne Morkel- have all struggled to pick wickets. Amla halted unfinished on 157 off 371 balls while Du Plessis at the other end was batting on 51 at stumps.

While it can be argued that the pitch was flat for the most parts of day 2 and day 3, absolutely nothing can be taken away from Stokes’ record-breaking magical innings, and Amla’s response that was as solid as the mountains that overlook the Newlands.

Brief Scores: England (toss) 629/6 (Stokes 258, Rabada 3/175) lead South Africa 353-3 (Amla 157, Finn 1/82) by 276 runs at stumps on day 3.

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