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Wed Apr 23 14:12:06 SAST 2014

The artistry of the wand, and the blunt instrument

Archie Henderson | 23 July, 2012 00:43

Hashim Amla must be a Sharks fan. Isn't everyone in Durban?

Durban is not like Cape Town, where there are Crusaders fans when the occasion demands it, or like Joburg, where there often seem to be more WP and Sharks fans than Lions ones, or even Pretoria, where there you can see the odd infiltrated blue-hooped jerseys at Loftus.

Durban and the Shark Tank are black and white. The only discordant colour would be worn by visitors.

So a double delight for Durbs on Saturday: the Sharks beating the Reds and Amla dissecting England's bowlers as if they were a corpse on the pathologist's table.

The contrast of South Africa's two century-makers at the Oval on Saturday could not have been more striking: the wristy artistry from the Stanger surfer and the ugly but effective bludgeoning by his captain, Graeme Smith. The former bats with a wand, the other with a blunt instrument.

Those of us brought up on MCC textbooks are inclined to admire the beauty of a Graeme Pollock cover drive (has there ever been anything more aesthetically pleasing in the entire world?) and scorn the Hansie Cronje heave (off Shane Warne, say) to cow corner. But with Smith ugly is the new beauty.

Put another way, Amla is all Sugar Ray Leonard; Smith is Evander Holyfield and Rocky Marciano rolled into one. But all three are good to watch.

Smith is the barn door to Amla's swinging gate. The South African captain's stance looks awkward and uncomfortable, but there is nothing wrong with the head - the area where cricket is really played. It is dead still, the eyes glare. Any bowler needs to be strong not to be intimidated.

Smith can also confuse opposing captains. He turns the physics of batting on its head. What should be a cover drive goes straight. What should be a straight drive goes to midwicket. Anything on the legside is toast. On Saturday Andrew Strauss kept Ravi Bopara, who has probably never misfielded or dropped a catch in his life, at cover point. No ball from Smith ever came his way. Tim Bresnan, often the opposite of Bopara, had his work cut out at midwicket.

South Africa are not expected to win any gold medals in London during the Olympics, but it won't matter if our cricketers continue in the series against England the way they did on Saturday, when Smith and Amla were at the crease. It was gold medal batting.

As for the Olympics, we should pin our hopes on the swimmers. The track and field part of Team SA looks out of sorts. Caster Semenya was poor at the weekend and LJ van Zyl's form is a mystery. And they are our best hopes on the track.

But the best part of the Olympics is that they are not here. If we ever again needed warning not to fall for the snake-oil salesmen of the IOC, it is London. By all accounts, the cost overruns are horrendous, the organisation chaotic and the legacy almost nonexistent. And the South African Olympic Committee's target of 12 medals is a joke. So let's hope we can win the cricket and do so at Lord's, once the IOC has sent the Olympic archers packing.

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Wed Apr 23 14:12:06 SAST 2014 ::