Hashim Amla, who joined a select band of cricketers in scoring a century in his 100th Test, said the quiet build-up he had consciously embraced ahead of the landmark match helped him. Amla has now become only the eighth player, and second South African after Graeme Smith, to mark 100 Tests with a hundred.
Amla had only 307 runs in seven Tests in the year leading up to this match, at an average of 25.58 with just two fifties and no hundreds in 12 visits to the crease. He shrugged off that poor run to be batting on 125 at the end of the first day of the first Test against Sri Lanka at Johannesburg, with South Africa looking strong on 338 for 3 in 90 overs on Thursday (January 12).
“I just wanted to have a quiet build-up to the match,” he said after the day’s play. “There have been some frustrations after not getting runs over the last couple of games and not contributing to the team’s success. I wanted my focus to be as pure as possible with no side attractions or razzmatazz. I personally feel I’m grateful to get a hundred (matches), there is no disrespect to it, but I had more important things, which was to try and work on my game when I was as least distracted as possible.
“To be honest the silver lining to me not scoring runs in the last two Test matches has meant that my focus was basically on scoring runs,” he went on, while recalling being part of the 100th Tests of AB de Villiers and Smith. “I needed to score runs and that was my focus, I’m glad to be playing this Test match. I remember being involved in AB’s and Graeme’s which was a lovely moment so I’m grateful to be sitting here after scoring some runs.”
At the beginning of his innings though, Amla didn’t look like a man set to break out of a slump. He was dropped by Dhananjaya de Silva at gully off Suranga Lakmal when he had 5 and only scored 6 in the first 50 runs of his partnership with JP Duminy, which was eventually worth 292, with Duminy hitting 155 off 221 before falling in the penultimate over of the day. Amla and Duminy came together when both opening batsmen, Stephen Cook and Dean Elgar, were dismissed within six balls when the total was on 45.
“When I first got in they bowled really well,” he said. “I just stuck in and had a bit of fortune. JP took the pressure off the team. For me personally I was just staying in my zone. When JP is on song he is a beautiful player to watch. His timing is immaculate and it is always a pleasure to bat with him.”
Duminy was caught at second slip off Lahiru Kumara after hitting 19 fours.
Amla, who took 109 balls to reach 50, stroked his way through his second half-century in 60 balls and by the end of the day had faced 221 deliveries and hit 16 boundaries.
He later said that even during his run of low scores, he had never felt completely out of form. “That’s the way the game goes sometimes. I always felt I was batting well. Fortunately the other guys were scoring runs.”
With a reputation for always being calm and unflustered, Amla was asked whether at any stage during his career he had felt the game was too much for him. He thought for a moment and then answered, “No.”
Explaining the decision to bat first in sporting conditions, Amla said the South Africans expected conditions to deteriorate as the match progresses. “The fact that we batted first, we were thinking about Day 4 and Day 5 on a wicket like this which could be even more difficult to bat on. I still think it’s a challenging wicket, with the new ball there is quite a lot of nip, it’s still shaping.”
Kaushal Silva, the Sri Lanka opener, said he thought his team’s bowlers had started well. “In the first hour ,our guys bowled really well but they were unlucky. After lunch the wicket settled and got really flat. The ball got soft and it was easier for the batsmen to score runs.”
But he paid tribute to Amla. “He was a bit under pressure at the start. After he got 30 runs, he got his rhythm back and was more the player we know he is. After getting his fifty he was playing fluently. It was a great innings.”