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I needed to score runs: Amla

CricketI needed to score runs: Amla

On the eve of his 100th Test match, Hashim Amla felt neither pride nor pleasure at his achievement, but pressure over the disappointments he had stacked up in the lead-up to the match. Amla had gone a whole year – 13 innings – without a hundred and ten across two tours without so much as a fifty. There were questions about how much longer he would play; how much longer he could play. There were murmurs that the magic was gone. And there was his single-minded mission to show that it wasn’t.Amla

For that reason, Amla asked not to become the centre of attention. He opted out of a media engagement in the lead-up, despite a cacophony of calls for him to appear and eventually only agreed to a photo opportunity on the morning of the game. Even then, he looked like he had a lot on his mind and putting a Test cap for the 100th time was not one of them.

“I wanted to have a quiet build up to this game,” he said after becoming the eighth player to score a century in his 100th Test. “There was a bit of frustration that I have been not getting runs in the last couple of games and not contributing to the team’s success. I wanted to my focus as true as possible. No side attractions, no razzmatazz, I had a more important thing and that was to try and work on my game. I needed to score runs.”

Not wanted to, needed to.

Amla did not reveal whether AB de Villiers’ imminent return to action – it could be as early as the third T20 against Sri Lanka later this month and it seems certain to be for the New Zealand tour which starts in mid-February – had anything to do with his need but that hardly matters. This was about him, the man many have called South Africa’s rock, and whether they could lean on him again.

To solidify, Amla went back to basics. After the Australia tour, which he admitted was “not a good tour for me” he sought out the advice of one of his first coaches, Phil Russell. What they worked on is top secret, but it may have been temperament, rather than technique because today Amla batted in the concentration bubble that seemed to have burst.

He survived the tough early period during which Sri Lanka’ seamers were at their best. “When I first got in they bowled really well to us. As a right-hander it seemed like they got their lines better to us up front. But on this type of wicket, you’re never in,” Amla said.

And then he survived a drop, as he has so many times before. “The element of fortune is extremely important. When you get dropped, you think I am going to try and bat on but before I got dropped I didn’t think let me get dropped so I can bat on,” he joked. Amla’s early struggles were in complete contrast to JP Duminy, who batted with such ease it seemed he was on a different surface. Duminy outscored Amla and played a potentially career-saving innings of his own which was a perfect foil to Amla and is deserving of much more praise than it will get. Amla offered some.

“With JP, what we’ve noticed is that when he’s on song he’s a beautiful player to watch,” Amla said. “His judgement is great, his timing is immaculate and it’s always a pleasure to bat with him. Everybody is happy that he’s got 100. He’s finding that consistency and he’s doing really well.”

Apart from the two centuries this was also South Africa’s day because of the way they ground Sri Lanka down to lay the platform for a series sweep. On a surface with a significant tinge of green and with an all-pace attack, South Africa may have been tempted to put the opposition on and do damage immediately but Amla explained they think batting is going to get tougher, which it makes it all the more important that his runs came when they did.

“We batted first, thinking about day four and five. It will be difficult to bat on. We saw with the new ball, a lot of nip and it’s still shaping. It’s a challenging wicket.”

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