Trio from rainbow nation use patience and skill to shine

Amla and De Villiers follow older man's example to deepen the home side's gloom
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The Independent Online

England knew hardly anything about Hashim Amla, Ashwell Prince and AB de Villiers at the start of this series. They do now.

At Lord's Amla and Prince were at the wicket when the match was declared a draw. Amla had scored 104 not out, batting with his top-order colleagues to save the game. At Headingley yesterday Prince was the hundred-maker, his second in back-to-back Tests, but he, like Amla and de Villiers, was batting to win this one. They are already well on the way.

South African cricket agonises over quotas but when you see the way their batsmen have played here, you wonder what all the fuss is about. Amla, from Durban, is the first South African Indian to play for his country; Prince, a Cape Coloured from Port Elizabeth, was the first non-white to captain South Africa; De Villiers, an Afrikaner from Pretoria, is at 24 the great white hope of South African cricket. They are a remarkable reflex ion of the rainbow nation.

All three played with great patience and admirable caution to build a lead. They respected the virtues of Test cricket, leaving balls outside the off stump that they did not need to play – and there were many – building each innings without bothering about the run rate.

The attention span of the Yorkshire crowd on the Western Terrace is notoriously brief, but they watched in a fairly respectful silence as Amla and Prince began the day with South Africa at 103 for 3 and the Test nicely balanced.

The start had been delayed by a sharp shower and shadows moved swiftly across the grass on a blowy morning. This was the English summer, though you would not guess that Amla has not played here before this series. He was calm and unworried, using his wrists like other good Indian batsmen. The pair scored only 30 runs in the first hour, but by the time Amla's luck ran out the partnership was 67 and South Africa were within 60 runs of England.

"It was tough Test cricket," Amla at the close. He was given out to a slow full toss from Darren Pattinson, England's surprise package, who was sadly unexciting once the wrapping was removed.

Prince is the oldest of the three, a neat 31-year-old with a relaxed stance and good balance. As a young player he was a dasher, but when he calmed down he became a fixture for South Africa and his Test average of 42.11 is the best among the three. Yesterday he provided a couple of rare champagne moments. As a left-hander he might in theory be vulnerable to Monty Panesar's left-arm spin. But he hit him for a straight six to bring up his own 50 – in only just short of three hours – and a second to send the score past 200.

At the close, he was only four runs short of his Test top score, 138. "His temperament is superb," said Amla.

South Africa took the lead after 66.4 overs and by then Prince felt comfortably at home, swivelling to hit the ball to the square leg boundary and dabbing to ball along the ground through the slips. He went to his hundred with a couple of boundaries, the second 50 runs having taken only 72 minutes. He had so thoroughly demoralised Andrew Flintoff that when an lbw appeal against Prince was rejected – rightly – the bowler stooped, motionless, his hands on his knees. After a second rejection, Flintoff simply sank to the ground, as if to say that enough was enough.

De Villiers, like Amla, had already scored heavily this year, in a drawn series in India. At Motera in April de Villiers had scored 217 not out. England had been warned, but he had misfired at Lord's. Like the other two, he built his innings slowly, his 50 taking 172 minutes. He is a functional batsman. He will not win style prizes but he hits the ball hard and looked untroubled on 70 at the close. His partnership with Prince went past 150 and apart from the occasional histrionic appeal by Flintoff, South Africa were secure and serene. When they finally came off for bad light at 6.35pm, South Africa were 119 ahead and England had precisely one wicket to show for 76 overs of hard work.

Evidently a week in cricket is as long as a week in politics. What had happened? Graeme Smith, South Africa's captain, had delivered "a few choice words" at Lord's last Saturday. His message was that the team had to wake up – so they did.

Michael Owen-Smith, South Africa's spokesman, is not an objective witness but he insists that when the team got on the bus for Headingley he could sense a marked improvement in the general vibe. His instinct has been proved correct. "We are battle-hardened," said Amla.