“Congratulations on becoming the fastest batsman to reach 2000 runs in ODIs.” The congratulatory message that got displayed on the screen must have forced the boisterous crowd, busy singing and dancing at the St Geroge’s Park, to rub their eyes in disbelief for a moment.
The reaction was understandable. After all, wasn’t Hashim Amla, not too long back, considered unsuitable for the shorter version of the game? The critics felt he couldn’t find gaps regularly enough, didn’t have enough strokes to score at a brisk pace, and, most importantly, lacked the intent and intensity required to succeed in the ODIs.
So, how has this man turned his game around and become the fastest to reach 2000 runs ahead of many other more fancied ODI specialists.
“He has worked on his game and found out what works for him,” said Graeme Smith. While nobody could explain the metamorphosis better than the man himself, there were a few clues in the brisk half-century he scored on Friday that make him the top batsman in the ICC ODIs rankings.
The most obvious was his intent to always look for runs and his stroke-play. Once he settled down, he didn’t shy away from playing his booming drives that could be dangerous on a slow wicket as this one, and used pull to good effect when the situation demanded.
Amla’s rhythm wasn’t disrupted even when pacers gave way to spinners. He looked completely in control as he nudged them around with soft hands --- how he clipped Harbhajan Singh a few times to mid-wicket for singles and couples showed his comfort level with varied attacks.
A moment of indiscretion that saw him run for a non-existent second, however, cut short what looked a very promising knock. That moment of madness triggered a collapse and South Africa were soon reduced from an impressive 111 for 2 to 118 for 5.
The big match syndrome appeared to have hit the Proteas again, before JP Duminy and Johan Botha shared a vital 60-run partnership to stabilise the ship.
While Duminy anchored the innings brilliantly with a fine half-century, the much-maligned South Africa lower order also redeemed itself.
They played around Duminy and, thanks to their effort, the hosts put up a fighting 265 for 7. For India, Yuvraj Singh was the pick of the bowlers, picking up three wickets even as the frontline bowlers Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh finally went for some runs.
Dhoni injury scare
India skipper MS Dhoni, who hurt his knee on Thursday, turned out for the match and kept wickets even though Parthiv Patel, the other wicket-keeper, too played the game.
In the middle of the match, Dhoni took off his pads and Parthiv kept the wickets thereafter. Before Dhoni took off the pads, India physiotherapist Paul Close had also dashed at once to the middle to check on his knee.
Wasn’t the India skipper fully fit? In case he wasn’t, wasn’t he taking a risk with the World Cup not too far away? This match, too, was important, but what if the injury was aggravated?