Mighty # almost makes a hash of it
THEY came to honour him, praise him even, but it took “The Mighty #” a little bit of time to shake off the jitters. He had tried very hard to ignore the hoopla of his 100th Test but for all his coolness, he’s still only human and as a great student of the game he’d have understood the significance of this milestone.
His own form has also not been great – in terms of results at least. He’s struck the ball sweetly in a number of innings recently, but pretty 30s and 40s are not what make Hashim Amla “the Mighty #”.
Amla admitted being frustrated about getting starts and not turning them into something substantial. When he returned from Australia – “which wasn’t a good tour for me personally,”– he consulted his batting coach Phil Russell, who coached Natal when Amla first broke into the provincial team and was also head groundsman at Kingsmead. “We did a bit of work and thankfully there are some runs to thank him with and for all the guys who have sent me messages of support. I’ve given them something back,” said Amla.
He took greater care yesterday as he set out to make his 100th Test appearance more than just about receiving a gold coin, a specially embroidered shirt and a framed montage of his greatest moments.
The Sri Lankans took advantage of the early tension that Amla displayed. They worked the area around his offstump, beat the bat occasionally, tested his front foot defence – which was for the most part solid – and built enough pressure that in the over before lunch Amla lost concentration, threw his bat at a ball he thought he could drive, but only edged it towards gully where Dhananjaya de Silva dropped a low chance.
Amla admitted afterwards that the moment reminded him of a Test at this same venue nine years ago. On that occasion the opponents were New Zealand, he was on two, he played a similar shot to the one he did yesterday, but instead of gully the edge went to Kiwi wicketkeeper that day Brendon McCullum, who missed the opportunity. Amla finished that innings unbeaten on 176. It was a platform of sorts from which his great career was launched.
There has seldom been a batsman more adept at making the opposition pay after they’ve dropped him than Amla – in his famous 311 at the Oval in 2012, Andrew Strauss missed a chance when Amla had 40 – and yesterday De Silva and Sri Lanka paid a heavy price.
“The element of fortune is extremely important,” he quipped.
The other more significant assistance for Amla came from teammate JP Duminy who produced a delightful century, his second of the season. In the early stages the freedom with which he played allowed Amla time to get through the lengthy difficult period at the start of his innings.
“I was trying to stay in my zone. Whether he was getting runs or not was immaterial to the way I was going to play,” Amla explained.
“What we’ve noticed with JP is that when he’s on song, he’s a beautiful player to watch. His judgment is great and his timing immaculate. It’s always a pleasure to bat with him. He’s got a hundred in Australia, a 60 in this series too. Finding that consistency is important and he is finding it exceptionally well.”
It took Amla 15 minutes short of three hours to register 50, he admitted the Sri Lankans bowled an excellent line to him especially in the hour before lunch. But once that minilandmark had been achieved, “The Mighty #” of old made the Wanderers his playground and he and the still elegantly driving Duminy flattened the tourists.
“On this type of wicket you’re never in. Myself and JP kept reminding ourselves about the next ball, the ball was nipping and swinging, any ball could get you out.”
Amla felt that whichever way Faf du Plessis chose to go after winning the toss, South Africa would have finished the day on top.
Amla shaped up pretty well yesterday, recent struggles have been forgotten, “The Mighty #” is back.