Monday, 23 July 2012

From Hash to Hamburg: the weekend South African sportsmen rocked the world

Bearded wonder: Hashim Amla at The Oval

THERE is simply no better way to warm-up for Friday’s Olympic opening ceremony in London than South Africa’s drama-soaked weekend of global conquest.
At The Oval, Durban’s Hashim Amla became the first ever South African to score a triple century as the Proteas crushed England by an innings at The Oval.
At Royal Lytham at St Anne’s, Kempton Park’s Ernie Els produced the most dramatic of finishes to win his second Open Championship ten years after his first.
In Cape Town, our local club Ajax came within seconds of beating mighty Manchester United in front of a full-house, denied only by a last-gasp Bebe equaliser.
In Paris, as the Tour de France saga finished along the Champs Elysees, there was South African-raised Chris Froome, the former St John’s schoolboy from Johannesburg, ushering yellow-shirted winner Bradley Wiggins to an historic one-two finish for the British.
In, Hamburg, with no great fuss, Cape Town’s Richard Murray, 23, won his first world series triathlon, out-sprinting double world champion Javier Gomez of Spain to set himself up as a serious medal contender in London.
And Down Under in Brisbane, the Sharks roared in to an all-South African Super15 semi-final against the Stormers at Newlands on Saturday with an emphatic 30-17 win over the reigning Reds.
Amla’s is the greatest of these sporting fairy-tales. His unbeaten 311 came on top of centuries for captain Graeme Smith in his 100th Test and a mighty 182 not out from ageless all-rounder Jacques Kallis.
They eventually declared on 637-2 after two record partnerships and the most comprehensive deconstruction of a home bowling attack in the 145-year history of Test cricket.
On day five, Dale Steyn took five wickets as England succumbed to an innings defeat on a ground where they had never previously lost to South Africa.
In his typically modest, bearded way, Amla, 29, said: “The runs are not as important as the team position. We are in a good place. With my scoring rate, 300 is usually a very long journey.
"I have a firm belief that everyone who has played a part in my career should have a share in whatever success I had. If we could divide the 300 runs up, they would all get a piece.
“I don’t deserve to be compared to Brian Lara. Whatever runs you get, I’m just grateful for it.”
Fikile Mbulula, in London for Friday’s torch-lighting after giving Biff a South Africa flag before his landmark 100th Test at the ground renamed The Ou Wil in honour of the Proteas, was all smiles.
The Minister of Sport said: "This is a sign of good things to happen on the British soil. This can only symbolize more glory for us as a country in July and August.
"The standing ovation the Big Easy received comes at the time when we prepare to compete with nations of the world during the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic games.
“But words can't express how I feel about Hashim Amla. He just keeps creating waves and moving mountains."
A decade after his historic win at Muirfield, Ernie said: “I’ve got to thank President Nelson Mandela, who’s been such an influence in our country, we are truly blessed to have a man like that to take us through a very difficult time. We can see the success of our country now thanks to Madiba.
“The President has been very much in my thoughts. I was lying this morning watching the cricket. And the thought came to me. If I win, I have to thank President Mandela. I grew up in the Apartheid era. Right after the change, I was the first one to win a major. There’s a lot of significance there… he got on a telephone to me in Pittsburgh. We intertwine together in a crazy way.
“I haven’t been in this position for ten years. Crazy, crazy, crazy. To make up all those shots, I just felt good. I don’t know. It’s hard to explain. I just knew I was going to feel good about this. I’ve been in such a negative mode for such a long time.
“I don’t think I missed a shot on the back nine. I feel comfortable here – and had a lot of help from the crowd.
“But I really feel for my buddy Adam Scott, I’ve been there before, blown majors before. I hope Scotty doesn’t take it as hard as I did.”
Now thoughts turn to the Olympics. To our women footballers, Banyana Banyana, who begin their campaign tomorrow, and the athletes – particularly Sunette Viljoen and Caster Semenya – and the swimmers, Cameron van den Burgh and Chad Le Clos, not forgetting the two hockey teams.
The target is 12 medals. Many doubt Team South Africa can reach that mark after the single medal disappointment of Beijing four years ago. But given the events of the weekend, perhaps we can expect a few outstanding surprises…

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