Hashim Amla missed out on a 27th Test hundred on the third day of this second Test but the South African’s second half-century of the match was an innings to savour for those who appreciate true batting craftsmanship.
Now 34, Amla is a year younger than Roger Federer, who secured a record eighth Wimbledon title down in London as Amla caressed England’s beleaguered bowlers to all parts of Trent Bridge.
Both men, masters of their chosen art, are defying the years to prove that age really isn’t a problem if you possess a rare talent.
Quick Single: England face mighty run chase
Amla may not be to the liking of those who prefer the crash, bang and wallop of the T20 format. However, his performance in Nottingham was a masterclass in how to compose a match-defining Test innings.
In all he scored 87 from 180 balls, a display of determined patience and timing designed to demoralise England’s bowlers but also laced with ruthless aggression evidenced by the 15 boundaries he scored.
Indeed, Amla brought up his half-century with a six off Liam Dawson. Amla took a particular liking to the left-arm spinner but was eventually dismissed by him lbw late in the afternoon session after what appeared a speculative review came up trumps.
It mattered not, the damage Amla had inflicted on England had been done. South Africa were 4-216 and leading by 346. By the close England, on one without loss, were left needing another 473 to win. The record successful chase at Trent Bridge is 284.
Former South Africa captain Graeme Smith, commentating for the BBC’s Test Match Special, said of his old teammate: "Well played Hashim Amla. That was an outstanding knock. He showed skill and patience and worked hard on this surface. He is a classy man and a classy cricketer."
Amla had also done much to get his side ahead of the game in the first innings of the match, top-scoring with 78. This was the fourth time he has scored half-centuries in each innings of an overseas Test and the first time since 2010, when he achieved the double against Pakistan in the UAE.
Amla may have had a rough ride in Australia late last year, where he averaged 19.60 in three Tests.
However, Amla loves England, where he averages a remarkable 68.71. Four years ago, he proved the difference between the teams, scoring an unbeaten 311 in his opening innings of the series at The Oval and ending up with 482 in three Tests at 120.50.
Amla’s runs in this match have done much to put his side in an impregnable position. If South Africa do not win this Test – and level the series at 1-1 with two to play – then something absolutely remarkable would have happened over the last two days.
His approach is one that perhaps England’s batsmen, who have verged on the frenetic at times in this series, might want to learn from.
Alastair Cook is one man who can occupy the crease for long periods and pick off opposing bowling attacks, although he does it with rather less grace than Amla. England will need him at his cussed best as they attempt to save this Test.
Joe Root is another who doesn’t need to alter his own dynamic approach to Test-match batting.
Others, though, need to remember that attack isn’t always the only option. Indeed, with another 180 overs scheduled in Nottingham defence will be the order of the day, even if it only delays the inevitable.
Amla proves that patience is indeed a virtue and his own in this match, along with his sublime timing, has set up what is surely going to be a famous win for his team.