HASHIM AMLA became the fourth South African batsman to score 20 Test match centuries as he played almost a lone hand to keep the Castle Lager Proteas in contention on the opening day of the two-match series against Pakistan at Abu Dhabi on Monday.
By the close of play, after Graeme Smith had won the toss, the Proteas had battled their way to 245/8 in their statutory 90 overs. The key fact is that Amla (118 off 250 balls, 13 fours) is still at the crease and it will be up to Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, playing in his 50th Test match, to give South Africa’s batting champion as much support as possible.
It will be difficult to assess the value of the Proteas’ total until after Pakistan have made their reply as the spinners are already starting to gain some turn and bounce and conditions are certainly not going to improve over the remaining four days. A total in the region of 300 could still prove to be formidable.
The Proteas’ day could be divided into three sections with the first three wickets falling for 44 runs; then there was the revival sparked by Amla who added 61 for the fourth wicket with AB de Villiers and 95 for the fifth with JP Duminy (57 off 94 balls, 6 fours and a six); and then the dismissal of Duminy sparking another mini-collapse that saw four wickets fall for 23 runs.
Both De Villiers and Duminy will have been extremely disappointed by their dismissals. The former was run out when he presumably thought the ball had gone dead and the Pakistani fielders and, more importantly, the umpires were of the opinion that it hadn’t. His unnecessary run out was a critical blow.
Duminy, in spite of not having batted in a Test match for more than a year, looked in the form of his life. He hit the ball off the middle of his bat with unerring regularity until he attempted a sweep shot that had been particularly productive for him and was caught off the top edge.
This was the left-hander’s debut against Pakistan and he passed an important test in showing his ability not only to cope with quality spin bowling but to dominate it. His last three first innings in Test cricket have been 46 not out, 61 (both against England) and now 57 against Pakistan which confirms that he is getting back to the exciting form he showed in Australia when his Test career started in 2008.
But the day belonged to Amla. His batting average for the current calendar year is in excess of 96 while his career average has now moved above 53. He has scored six centuries in his last 12 Tests (19 innings). As usual he scored strongly square on both sides of the wicket and did not hesitate to go over the top with some spectacular lofted cover drives.
Ironically, considering the threat he poses, Saeed Ajmal had to wait until the fall of the eighth wicket to claim his first scalp but he was always there or there about and was always maintaining pressure at the one end. His spin partner, Zulfiqar Babar, had a happy debut, taking three wickets, while the two seamers, Mohammad Irfan and Junaid Khan, always commanded respect and were responsible for the three early breakthroughs.