Smith, Amla take the bat to England at the Oval

South Africa's captain Graeme Smith (right) is congratulated by teammate Hashim Amla at the Oval in...

South Africa's captain Graeme Smith (right) is congratulated by teammate Hashim Amla at the Oval in London yesterday.

NORMAN DA COSTA, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:32 PM ET

The bearded Hashim Amla and his skipper Graeme Smith made mockery of the most vaunted pace attack in Test cricket. Both slammed centuries to put South Africa on top after two days in the first Test against England at the Oval on Saturday.

After dismissing England for 385, the visitors finished on 403 for two wickets to put South Africa in the driver’s seat as the Proteas look to take over as the top Test team from England.

The elegant Amla punished England with an imperious display of cover drives to finish on 183 not out. But it was Smith who stole the limelight as he marked his 100th Test with his 25th century with a gritty performance. Smith did not take any chances in his first 50 that came off 160 deliveries, but then faced just 41 balls to reach his milestone before falling for 131. Smith and Amla starred in a second-wicket partnership of 259 runs, a South African record against England and Smith also joined a select group of players who scored a century in their 100th appearance. The others were Colin Cowdrey, Gordon Greenidge, Javed Miandad, Alec Stewart, Inzamam-ul Haq and Ricky Ponting.

INDIA ON TOP

Virat Kohli cracked a terrific 106 and opening batsman Virender Sehwag slammed 96 to help visiting India stroll to a 21-run win in the first ODI at Hambantota. Set the daunting task of overtaking 315, Sri Lanka managed 293 for nine.

Skipper Kumar Sangakkara led the chase with a slow and steady 133 off 151 balls and Thisara Perera later slammed a quick 44 but the India’s total seemed way out of the home team’s reach. India was expected to have the upper hand as it returned to the international scene after a rare rest of six weeks. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, has gone almost non-stop since last August. . . . World Cup hero Yuvraj Singh, who is recovering from a rare germ cell cancer, has been included in India’s preliminary squad of 30 for the World T20.

ASHES TAKE A BACK SEAT

Pakistan’s charismatic all-rounder Shahid Afridi was right on the ball when he said his country’s much-anticipated series against arch-rival India was more important than the once-revered Ashes that’s contested by England and Australia. Afridi’s comment came immediately after the two sub-continental giants agreed to play three ODIs and three T20s in December and January after a break of five years. All of the matches will be played in India as Pakistan is still considered a threat risk by international teams following a deadly terrorist attack on Sri Lanka’s touring team in 2009.

“The series between Pakistan and India is more popular than the Ashes as the matches are widely followed and people throughout the world are greatly interested in their matches,’’ said Afridi.

Former India skipper Sunil Gavaskar was the lone dissenting voice as the world welcomed the resumption of cricketing ties between the two nations. “Being a Mumbaikar I feel what is the urgency when there is no co-operation from the other side,’’ said Gavaskar, referring to 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

Former greats — Imran Khan of Pakistan and Bishen Singh Bedi of India — were thrilled that the two nations who have gone to war on three occasions since independence in 1947 will be back on the field.

“The prospect of India and Pakistan playing against each other is a good news for international cricket because these matches are followed by millions across the world,’’ said Khan who led his country to the World Cup in 1992.

ENGLAND TAKES A STAND

England’s decision not to select Kevin Pietersen for the upcoming World Twenty20 title in Sri Lanka must be applauded.

The board made it clear that its contracted players must be available for all three formats of the game but Pietersen decided against playing in the 50-overs but made himself available for the T20s. England rightly felt if they acceded to his request it would have to cut out similar deals with other players.

Pietersen, who is arguably England’s finest batsman, cited the heavy international schedule for his retirement from 50 overs as it left him little time with his family.

INJURIES MOUNTING

The Australians are known to be one tough bunch able to withstand anything thrown at them. But in recent months the robust Aussies have been hit by a spate of injuries. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the near year-long international schedule involving the three formats of the game is taking its toll. Teenage pace sensation Patrick Cummins broke down during that ODI drubbing in England last month and he was joined on the sidelines by Shane Watson and Brett Lee, who then limped into retirement.

In the past 12 months the lineup also saw key players like skipper Michael Clarke, Dave Warner, James Pattinson, Ryan Harris, Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle sidelined.

DATE WITH DESTINY

One of Australia’s greatest batsman Ricky Ponting stands on the threshold of becoming the most capped player for his country when the summer season opens Down Under.

He is expected to play in three Tests versus South Africa in November and then earn his 169th cap in the first of three Tests against Sri Lanka in his home state of Hobart. Former skipper Steve Waugh holds the record with 168 appearances.

SOGGY SCOTLAND

The international between England and Scotland set for three weeks from now at the Grange in Edinburgh has been cancelled. The ground is flooded and the forecast is calling for more inclement weather in August.


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