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Amla returns hungrier than ever as SA records comfortable win in warm-up match

South Africa beat Sri Lanka by 87 runs in a World Cup warm-up game in Cardiff.

Proteas batsman Hashim Amla runs a quick single in an ODI match against Pakistan at the Supersport Park on 25 January 2019 in Centurion. Picture: AFP

South Africa (338/7: Faf du Plessis - 88; Hashim Amla 65) beat Sri Lanka (251 all out: Dimuth Karunaratne 87; Angelo Mathews 64; Andile Phehlukwayo 7-0-36-4) by 87 runs.

Those wrists! Oh, how we missed their snap.

When Hashim Amla leans forward and shows off his dexterity by lashing the ball through cover or midwicket, he makes the recording of runs and averages look like the glib work of a bean counter putting a price tag on a Picasso. Cricket has always been a game of numbers, but there are acts performed by a select few out in the middle that need no quantifiable metric to be savoured.

Not that Amla’s 65 from 61 balls will matter to the history books. The Proteas World Cup warm-up game against Sri Lanka at Cardiff will not be recorded as an official One-Day game as all 15 squad members were eligible to take part with bat and ball.

But this was not about the numbers. Even the result doesn’t matter. This dress rehearsal was to serve a single purpose: fine tune as many players as possible ahead of the real thing against England next Thursday. No one needed a morale-boosting performance more than Amla.

This knock represents his highest score in a competitive game since his 108 not out against Pakistan in January’s ODI in Port Elizabeth. His last 13 trips to the crease for club and country across all formats have yielded 153 runs at an average of 11 with a high of 32 and six single-figure scores.

Critics said he was a busted flush, a has-been past his prime who was resting on his unquestioned legendary status. But this is a World Cup; the unattainable Holy Grail for South African cricket and strong arguments were made against what appeared to some as a sentimental pick.

But Amla declared he was determined and hungrier than ever. He took time away from the team environment and isolated himself to one-on-one training with batting coach Dale Benkenstein in his home town of Durban where he could also be closer to his ailing father.

Who knows what doubts and distractions and insecurities were tumbling around his brain as he took guard to face Suranga Lakmal’s first delivery at a muggy Sophia Gardens in the Welsh capital. And how was his brain handling the extra passengers on little nutrients as a result of his observation of Ramadan?

He navigated the first ball and then got off the mark with his second. First job done. When he faced Lakmal two overs later, he unfurled those wrists and, for a brief moment, nothing else mattered. One past mid-off courtesy of a drive on the up, the other a bull-whipped flick to the fence on the on-side.

Seven more boundaries would follow before he was drawn forward by Jeevan Mendis, whose googly ripped through the gate to dislodge the bails. An untimely end to a timely innings from a man who makes time stand still.

At the other end Faf du Plessis carried his IPL form by bludgeoning 88 off just 69 balls. He hardly seemed to climb out of third gear. He’ll be disappointed that he couldn’t register three figures. The same too with the tame relinquishing of his wicket - a leading edge to long on after skipping down the track in search of a fifth six.

Aiden Markram (21), Rassie van Der Dussen (40), JP Duminy (22) and Andile Phehlukwayo (35) all got starts without kicking on. Only David Miller failed to show any positive signs with the bat, thwacking a long hop straight to the man catching at midwicket.

An unbeaten eighth wicket stand between all-rounders Dwaine Pretorius (25) and Chris Morris (26) ratcheted the total to 338/7, a score that was always going to be beyond Sri Lanka.

It took Lungi Ngidi seven balls to take two wickets - Kusal Perera for a duck and Lahiru Thirimanne for 10 - both caught at cover by Miller. Raw pace and steep bounce make batters do things that would cause them to cringe if they saw the replays and Ngidi has both in abundance.

Kusal Mendis counter attacked with 31 from 25, flailing Morris who was too short for too long. The lanky all-rounder was welcomed to the squad through the back door after Anrich Nortje’s withdrawal from injury but struggled here.

But then so did the rest of the South African reserves. Once Ngidi and Kagiso Rabada departed, their team-mates lacked accuracy and menace to as Dimuth Karunaratne helped himself to 12 fours in a stay of 87. He was well supported by Angelo Mathews whose 64 contributed to a 98 fourth wicket stand.

It was only when Ngidi was introduced that the Sri Lankan captain was sent back to the hut - a middle pull straight to Markram on the leg side fence was an unfortunate way to go.

Phehlukwayo emphasised his all-round abilities with 4/36 from seven overs. His heavy medium pacers add depth to the bowling stocks and he has enough variety to outfox batsmen looking to tee off. He can be pleased with his efforts on Friday. By the time he picked up his fourth, the game was all but secure.

The same can’t be said of fringe players Pretorius and Shamsi who, along with Morris, were largely ineffective (though Pretorius did pick up a consolation scalp late on). Du Plessis outlined his tournament plans earlier in the week and, unlike most other teams, South Africa will look to out bowl their opponents. In order to do this, they need everyone firing, especially if the tail will be lengthened to accommodate Dale Steyn.

Much to ponder for Ottis Gibson and his fellow decision makers. Unanswered questions remain, particularly on the best balance between bat and ball. One resounding positive though is the return, however briefly, of Amla’s wrists and the unquantifiable joy they bring.

Report by Daniel Gallan.

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