Amla stands tall‚ but SA bowlers have work to do

24 May 2019 - 20:05 By telford vice in Cardiff
Hashim Amla.
Hashim Amla Hashim Amla.
Image: Lee Warren/Gallo Images

It’s been a while since the real Hashim Amla stood up‚ but he was unmistakable at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff on Thursday.

Warm-up games are not for winning and losing‚ even those ahead of a World Cup‚ so there’s little import in the fact that South Africa beat Sri Lanka by 87 runs.

They did so by batting solidly and escaping with the spoils despite bowling below themselves.

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Whatever. It matters far more that Amla is back.

At his best‚ he doesn’t merely bat. He makes magical realism‚ crossing paths with the ball in unexpected places and sending it to even less expected places.

He wasn’t at his best‚ and not only because his best is a world away from ordinary.

He was instead someone blinking into the light after a long time in the darkness for his 65‚ his highest score since January and in 18 innings of cricket of any kind.

One of his nine fours‚ off Thisara Perera and exquisitely timed‚ streaked away through the covers even as his bat carved a curve above his head as if he had never been away.

Amla was undone in the 24th over when he drove at what he thought was Jeevan Mendis’ leg break‚ only to be dealt a googly that rattled his stumps.

But‚ after everything life has thrown at Amla these past few weeks‚ this was confirmation that he still has what it takes to command a place on this stage.

And that he has the edge over Aiden Markram as Quinton de Kock’s opening partner.

Markram partnered Amla at the start of the match — De Kock didn’t bat but kept wicket for half the Lankans’ reply‚ when he was replaced by David Miller — and was caught behind in the seventh lashing wide of his body at Suranga Lakmal.

Enter Faf du Plessis to share a stand of 128 and play with supreme confidence for a 69-ball 88 spiked with seven fours and four sixes‚ his sixth effort of 50 or more in his last 11 innings in a South Africa ODI shirt.

Thursday was a reminder that‚ because he is a fine captain‚ Du Plessis doesn’t get the credit he deserves for his batting.

Rassie van der Dussen was decent for his 40 and Andile Phehlukwayo’s 35 featured a straight six smoked flat and fearsome off Nuwan Pradeep.

South Africa seemed on course for a bigger total than their 338/7 while Amla and Du Plessis were at it.

But Lungi Ngidi bowled with plenty of zip and zap in his first spell of four overs‚ taking 2/6 to ensure a slow start to the Lankans’ reply.

Kagiso Rabada also threatened‚ though without success until the 30th over — when he ended Dimuth Karunaratne’s important innings at 87 with a catch at deep square leg.

Phehlukwayo brought composure and confidence‚ and his 4/36 from seven overs had much to do with Sri Lanka losing their last six wickets for 52 to be dismissed for 251 in 42.3 overs.

But the rest of the attack will go to Bristol for Sunday’s warm-up against West Indies with plenty to think about.

Chris Morris‚ Imran Tahir‚ Dwaine Pretorius‚ Tabraiz Shamsi and JP Duminy were flat and ineffectual‚ and Du Plessis will be relieved that‚ Tahir excepted‚ they shouldn’t be integral to his bowling plan too often.

Besides‚ he has a bigger reason to be cheerful: Hash is back.