South African cricket stars come out on top despite draw

By Hilton Yip Source:Global Times Published: 2016-1-11 23:23:01

Last week's Test cricket match between England and South Africa may have finished as a draw, but it was one of the most memorable Tests in recent times.

There was England's massive first innings total of 629, powered by Ben Stokes' rapid 258, which was then almost equaled by South Africa's 627 in reply, with a fine game-­saving captain's knock of 201 by Hashim Amla. But going beyond the numbers, the game was momentous for the South Africans.

Amla's 201 was his last innings for South Africa as Test captain, a role he relinquished following the end of the match. The bearded Durbanite is one of his country's greatest batsmen but has had a mixed record since becoming captain in 2014. Before the double century in this Test, the second of a four-match series, Amla had gone without a century for the entirety of 2015.

South Africa had another centurion in that Test. Temba Bavuma scored an unbeaten 102, but, more significantly, became the first black South African to score a Test century. With that, the diminutive ­Bavuma has become a role model for millions of young black South Africans. Bavuma has also proved that his inclusion in his country's Test squad is merited beyond just the color of his skin. Despite blacks being the majority in the country, cricket is still regarded as a privileged sport and lags behind soccer in terms of popular participation.

In an attempt to boost the number of non-black players, South Africa implemented a rule requiring at least four non-black players in the Test squad as a kind of sports affirmative action. As a result, black South African players who get picked often field questions about whether they were picked on form or just to fulfill the quota requirement. Bavuma, who was playing only his seventh Test, certainly answered critics.

Amla gave up the captaincy but will continue as a batsman, a rare situation in Test cricket. Usually, when cricket captains step down, it is to retire or ­because of direct pressure or an order from the administration.

The humble gesture is characteristic of the soft-spoken Amla, who is a practicing Muslim and sports an impressive full-­flowing beard that puts hipsters to shame. It is not hard to ­believe that being relieved of the captaincy will help Amla focus on his batting and return to his best form.

The show of class from Amla is also a refreshing change from the recent behavior of other stars like the West Indies' Chris Gayle or Ivorian soccer star Yaya Toure.

The author is a Beijing-based freelance writer.

Posted in: Extra Time

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