SA’s meal of Sri Lanka can’t be a reg­u­lar dish

Sunday Times - - SPORT - 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 yes­ter­day, 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 lon­goff 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.

Those four wick­ets fell for 48 runs, and with them went any se­ri­ous doubt about the re­sult.

Just to make sure, Par­nell — who went for 45 runs 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 semi­fi­nals.

But AB 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 must­win con­test on Wed­nes­day.

And no-one wants to have to deal with Pak­istan on those terms.

But far rather, for South Africa, 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 flick­ered 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.

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