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Proteas want the lead in topsy-turvy series

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Hash still holds the record of the highest Test score by a South African at The Oval

Milestones will not be on the mind of Hashim Amla when the third Test against England gets under way at the Oval tomorrow. According to the opening batsman a series lead is what the team needs right now.

On the occasion of its 100th Test there’s naturally been a lot of reminiscing at The Oval this week, and there’ll continue to be over the coming days.

South Africa’s major contribution to the storied ground’s 137-year history strode across the outfield yesterday, having completed training and said that while his innings here five years ago will always remain special, it’s not something he’s keen to focus on this week.

Hashim Amla’s 311 is still the highest Test score by a South African and while celebrated in South Africa, in these parts it doesn’t hold the same reverence as Len Hutton’s 364 – in 1938 a then world record – or even Viv Richards’ 291 in 1976. In the latter’s case that was a flamboyant effort that typified the method of one of the all time great Test teams while Hutton’s effort nearly 80 years ago is still the highest Test score by an Englishman.

Amla’s performance in 2012 was a masterclass in patient batting, that interspersed periods of calm with moments of classic stroke-play. He mastered England’s fine off-spinner Graeme Swann nudging and flicking him smartly on the leg-side and when Swann drifted wide of the off-stump, Amla would unleash the cover drive.

As his innings continued the sweep became a feature – a demonstration of how he changed strategy against Swann who was left exasperated and injured and was dropped from the second Test of the series.

Amla has sought to suppress those memories as South Africa attempt to take a lead in what has been a topsy-turvy series.

“I remember just trying to bat as long as I can and thankfully I did,” he said of his 13-hour 10 minute effort.

“The one thing I remember; we were bowling on the first day, England were in a good position after day one and the way we came back the next day, bowling them out (for 385), that was the turning point in the game, it got us back in.

“To win that Test, the fight we showed is what stayed with me from the last time we played here.

“A lot of cricket has happened since, I don’t think there’ll be any thoughts of that (innings). I find things that happened in the past, if you linger too long on them, it becomes more of a distraction.”

Asked if he was still the same player as five years ago, Amla quipped:

“I’ve got the same name.”

His statistics are not quite the same, however. Before that triple-century, he’d scored two centuries and four 50s in his previous 13 innings, but this year his form’s not been as prolific – just one century and three half-centuries in 15 innings.

That said, there did appear to be a reminder of the Amla of 2012 in the way he played in the second Test in Nottingham last week where innings’ of 78 and 87 suggested he was getting back to some good Test form.

“I’ve trained as tough as I can train, that’s important for me, whether the scores come or not, it’s about applying yourself and letting the score take care of itself.”