TELFORD VICE at The Oval
WHAT is it about Hashim Amla and The Oval during Ramadan? His triple century here in 2012’s holy month loomed over that test series like the mountain over Mohammad. At London’s proper cricket ground on Saturday, the eighth day of this year’s fast, he needed but a century to remind all who saw it of the power of self-discipline.
But what a century it was. For more than 42 overs Amla fashioned a feast for the eye and foisted famine on Sri Lanka in an innings salted with sass and peppered with pizzazz.
He carved the pick of his smorgasbord of strokes from a delivery bowled on middle and off by Asela Gunaratne that plopped over long-off for six like an egg into a poaching pan.
There were five fours and another six – this one fetched from outside off and smote over midwicket off Seekkuge Prasanna – in the pantry from whence that came.
Amla’s 103 was the meat, Faf du Plessis’ 75 the potatoes and JP Duminy’s unbeaten 38 the gravy in South Africa’s hearty stew of 299/6.
Sri Lanka’s reply, full of flavour up front, ran out of spice when they needed it most and went cold in the microwave at 203 to make South Africa winners by 96 runs.
Kagiso Rabada and Wayne Parnell made a meal of things with the new ball, but Morne Morkel struck with his second delivery, Chris Morris with his fifth, and Imran Tahir with his second and his fifth.
AB de Villiers runout of Dinesh Chandimal meant five wickets fell for 77 runs, and with them went any serious doubt about the result.
Just to make sure, Parnell – who went for 45 in his first five overs – nailed the fridge door shut by conceding only five in the second half of his quota.
Rabada, too, pulled things back well: his first four overs cost 28 runs, his last six 18.
So the South Africans will go to Birmingham hungry for victory over Pakistan at Edgbaston on Wednesday, which would surely earn them a place at the table for the Champions Trophy semi-finals.
But De Villiers and his team will know they have leftovers to get rid of before they can stand the heat of the kitchen the tournament will become in its knockout rounds.
The 145 that Amla and Du Plessis shared for the second wicket was South Africa’s only stand of 50 or more, and it would have been ended at 15 had Lasith Malinga’s mop of highlighted hair not fuzzed his view of the ball dropping towards him on the fine leg boundary after Du Plessis top-edged Nuwan Pradeep.
Not for the first time in recent weeks South Africa’s ground fielding was below their own standards. On top of that, Rabada dropped both Niroshan Dickwella – what should have been a simple catch – and Upul Tharanga – far more difficult – off his own bowling in their troubling opening stand of 69.
Had the Lankans captain and senior batsman, Angelo Mathews, not been ruled out by a gammy calf South Africa might have veered uncomfortably close to facing a must-win contest on Wednesday. And no-one wants to have to deal with Pakistan on those terms.
But far rather, for South Africa, that they found ways to win despite playing something less than their best cricket.
Amla’s shimmering effort aside, Du Plessis batted with the double-edged sword of steeliness and swagger required of a No. 3 at this level – and particularly in this team – while Duminy’s innings would have won back some of the confidence he will have lost this season.
Tahir looked more like the matchwinner he is than he did in the one-day series against England. He was duly rewarded with a haul of 4/27.
Most importantly, the whole was more than the sum of its parts. It’s one thing to gather all of the required ingredients and another to follow the recipe to the letter.
But the resultant dish won’t be worth taking to the table should, say, the lights go out in the middle of its making.
They fiickered for South Africa at some stages of this match, but stayed on.
That allowed them to deliver something to whet the appetites of their supporters and give their opponents food for thought.