The first cricketer of Indian descent to play for South Africa has a grace of movement and lightness of touch which is a pleasure to watch. Cricket-loving comedian Andy Zaltzman tweeted, likening his long partnership with muscular South African captain Graeme Smith to "Rudolph Nureyev and Freddie Krueger".
But it was the balletic partner in a 259-run second wicket stand, a record for South Africa against England who proved to have the true grinding qualities. He batted from start to finish as England's highly-rated bowlers were reduced to baffled impotence, taking only a single wicket on the third day of the first test at The Oval.
Where Smith fell, to general amazement, towards the end of the afternoon session, Amla stayed all day. And while the South African captain's innings incorporated some extraordinary changes of tempo, Amla accumulated at an almost unvarying pace of around a run every two deliveries – reaching 100 off 199 deliveries and 150 from 294.
He ended the day on 183 not out, his second highest score in 60 tests, from 369 deliveries. With Jacques Kallis 82 not out, South Africa were 403 for two at the close, 18 ahead and with plenty more batting to come.
Provided the Proteas bat with purpose today, England could face a long struggle for survival when they bat again. A draw is the best result they can realistically hope for.
Amla's remorseless tempo was in keeping with a long, oddly flat day.England's bowlers rarely threatened after Jimmy Anderson had gone past the bat a couple of times in the first few overs. Nor did delivering their overs at a rate of 14 per hour, particularly poor when a lot of them were delivered by spinner Graeme Swann, help the action along.
England's frustration was never more evident than when the below-par Stuart Board delivered a bouncer so wayward that umpire Steve Davis ruled a wide.
South Africa appeared content to accumulate rather than push ahead with purpose. While the match situation by the close fully justified this strategy, it made for some uninspired watching.
Smith, who reached his century from the penultimate ball before lunch, allowed himself to be limited to a further eight runs in the first hour after the interval.
What was particularly odd about this was its contrast with his batting immediately before lunch. He had been watchful on Friday and in the early stages yesterday, taking 160 deliveries to reach his 50.
His second half-century was reached at a rate more associated with Twenty20 cricket as he went from 50 to 103 in 41 deliveries, striking ten fours as he did so. That century was his fifth in 10 test matches and 18 innings in England. Comparison with the other men who have scored five centuries against England in England shows how impressive a record that is. Mark Taylor took 31 innings, Vivian Richards 34, Gary Sobers 37 and Allan Border 43. Only the superhuman Donald Bradman, scorer of 11 hundreds in 30 innings in England, has a better average as a visitor than Smith's 75.87.
It also made him only the seventh man to score a century in his 100th test, joining a succession established by Colin Cowdrey when he became the first man to reach that mark back in 1968.
Smith's expression, after he had played on to a delivery from Tim Bresnan on 131, showed that he felt there were still plenty of runs to come on this occasion.
But his dismissal brought little relief for England. Smith gave way to the metronomic Jacques Kallis. The veteran all-rounder's record in England is in sharp contrast to Smith's, with an average of only 29, a little over half his career norm, and a single century from 42 innings on previous visits.
But he clearly enjoys batting with Amla. Before yesterday they had shared nine century partnerships, including three that went on past 300. He set about revising his personal record, in the process grinding England further into the Kennington dust, with characteristic orthodox thoroughness.
He, too, slipped into that three-an-over tempo as century partnership number 10 was raised and a first-innings lead secured not long before the close of a gruelling three-hour final session.
Contextual targeting label: