Cape Town – Third innings as Test captain
of the Proteas, first century in that capacity ... it’s got to be considered a
pretty swift return.
As it happened: Sri Lanka v South Africa - Day 3
That was the situation on Saturday for Hashim Amla, who led what was virtually a solitary, meaningful quest to keep the hungry Sri Lankans at bay on day three of the decisive second Test in Colombo.
Amla’s 22nd Test ton and first against these opponents in seven Tests against them was the lone but very substantial high point of South Africa’s middle day in the contest.
The dice is probably loaded at this stage against the Proteas being able to save this game on a patience-testing surface and prevent the ‘Lankans sharing the mini-series, but thanks to the skipper’s resilience they have a slightly better chance of achieving it now and even a win cannot completely yet be discounted.
There were plenty of doubters about the wisdom of giving the leadership, as Graeme Smith’s successor, to a batsman who has been one of the country’s essential kingpins for years and has previously mostly shunned the chore in order to focus on his often brilliant endeavours at the crease.
But even if it stays early days in his tenure, this innings, coming in eight hours and six minutes of admirable concentration in demanding conditions - both cricketing and weather-related - was quite some put-down for the dissenters.
Indeed, if Amla had stayed in the steamy middle for that long under more orthodox, attack-minded circumstances for him in this format, he would possibly have expected to have achieved or got much nearer to another double-century than the 139 he was undefeated on when the Proteas were bowled out in their first knock for a painstaking 282.
It doesn’t require Archimedes to work out that he accounted for more than half of his team’s runs off the bat (there were 10 extras).
There had also been some publicity, ahead of the team’s departure for their energy-sapping destination, about the fact that Amla would have the physical drawback of campaigning there whilst in the throes of the Ramadan fast - that’s been proved no snag at all, especially when you add in his back-to-back tons in the one-day international series which SA won against the odds.
Tempering his delight over his standout personal success on Saturday, no doubt, would have been his awareness, before the Proteas bowled a handful of unrewarded overs to Sri Lanka’s openers before stumps, that the hosts still ended up leading on the first innings by precisely as many runs as he had registered himself.
Still, Amla would have been quietly satisfied for another reason: this was also his first rich, three-figure harvest after his self-determined switch to designated No 4 in the order following his appointment as skipper.
He does boast one prior century in the berth, against England at Centurion in 2009/10, but that was only because he was bumped out of his then-staple No 3 by Paul Harris having gone in ahead of him as a night-watchman.
Sri Lanka powerfully hold the aces with six sessions left in this Test; that’s hard to dispute.
But the Proteas have produced miracle salvation acts before ... oh, and a certain Hashim Mahomed Amla still has a second opportunity looming at the crease.
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing