South Africa 339-4 Middlesex: Smith fails to show his credentials while Amla shines again

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The Independent Online

The good news for South Africa is their captain, Graeme Smith, appears to have recovered from the hamstring injury that threatened his participation in Thursday's first Test against England. The bad news is he is horribly out of form.

It is five weeks since Smith played in a competitive match, for the Rajasthan Royals in a semi-final at the Indian Premier League, and it seems that his right leg has responded to time off better than his bat. Smith batted for 129 minutes here yesterday, scoring 35 rather unconvincing runs before edging an ugly cut at an Alan Richardson loosener through to the keeper. It was a fitting end to his innings.

At this stage of the tour Smith would have been happy with the trade off. He has enough experience not to let the innings worry him, but will be hoping that the forecast bad weather stays away and he gets another opportunity to spend further time at the crease.

At the other end of the form scale is Hashim Amla, who scored his second hundred of the tour. Amla clocked up an impressive 161 here. The 25-year-old made full use of a true pitch and fast outfield, driving and cutting the ball beautifully. Amla, a highly rated player of spin bowling, ruined Mark Lawson's Middlesex debut, pulling half-trackers from the leg spinner for three sixes.

Ashwell Prince enjoyed the batter friendly conditions and second string bowling, too, scoring a gritty hundred. Prince was given his opportunity when Jacques Kallis suffered a rare failure, edging Richardson through to Ben Scott. The departure of Kallis raised Middlesex hopes of helping England's cause by dismissing the South Africans cheaply but Amla and Prince ended those aspirations with a 190 run partnership.

Andrew Strauss, playing for Middlesex in order to get needed middle practice before Lord's, can only have been impressed. During Duncan Fletcher's time as coach it is hard to believe Strauss would have played in this match, yet it was a surprise not to see Owais Shah on the Middlesex team sheet. Shah speaks often about his desire to break into the Test side and a hundred against a full strength South African team would have only helped his chances of achieving the goal. Shah has always been a more gifted batsman than Strauss but their contrasting attitudes to this match probably highlights why one has made it as a Test cricketer and the other is yet to.