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“Form might not have been on Amla’s side of late, age also may not be on his side anymore but his innings today showed that class is permanently on his side”

The last time Hashim Amla scored a century in international cricket was in the month of October in 2017.

That month saw Amla scoring not one but two centuries in a space of just 9 days. Both of them came against the visiting Bangladesh side.

The first one was a fluent innings of 132 in the second Test of the series at Bloemfontein that helped South Africa in setting up a massive victory by an innings and 254 runs. The second one was yet another splendid knock of an unbeaten 110 at Kimberley that helped South Africa to a 10-wicket victory over the Tigers.

However, he has scored only 653 runs across 25 Test innings and 400 runs in 12 ODI innings at averages of 28.39 and 33.33 respectively since then. These numbers don’t at all do justice to the capabilities of a player who has overall averages of 50.34 and 47.33 in ODIs and Tests respectively, and has over 18,000 international runs to his name.

Moreover, increasing trend of his injuries in the last one year has also suggested that age is catching up on the 35-year old. With the World Cup ahead, South Africa had also started pondering new opening options in case Amla’s slump in form continued.

However, he showed his class once again and announced his return to form in style with an unbeaten knock of 108 off just 120 deliveries in the first ODI of the series against Pakistan at Port Elizabeth on Saturday.

Opening the batting with Reeza Hendricks, Amla made a determined start to his innings. We didn’t have to wait for Amla’s trademark flick off the pads as he played that shot fluently on the very fourth delivery of his innings he faced. The ball raced straight away to the boundary giving the fielders no chance to stop at all.

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However, that was the only loose delivery that the Pakistani bowlers were going to offer Amla in the next few overs. They bowled wicket to wicket line and lengths and gave Amla no room or freedom down the leg side at all. But Amla kept rotating the strike as Reeza Hendricks built up some good stroke play at the other end.

Amla’s next boundary arrived on the first delivery of the 10th over of South Africa’s innings. It was a straight drive off Fahim Ashraf’s bowling that took Amla’s score to 14 off 18 deliveries and South Africa’s score to 39 without any loss.

If that was not enough, he showed the class of his touch play once again as he guided a rising delivery on off stump to the third man boundary with a beautiful work of wrists.

That straight drive played down wide mid on and the dab through third man indicated the kind of shape and form Amla was in and what was about to come. He also unleashed his ferocious cuts and square drives a couple of overs later and the Pakistani bowlers seemed to have no control over what Amla was doing to them out there.

Pakistan got a glimmer of hope when Amla missed a sweep and Shadab Khan’s delivery wrapped straight into his pads. It was given Not Out by the Umpire but Pakistan took a review in desperation. The DRS decision wasn’t any different from that of the on field umpire as ball tracking showed it going down the leg side. Amla was going nowhere. He was there to stay having already made his way to 37 off just 39 deliveries.

His partner Hendricks departed a couple of deliveries later with the team score on 82, but he didn’t let that deter his concentration at the crease. He continued in the same way and started to build a partnership with the debutant Rassie van der Dussen.

However, batting with a debutant isn’t easy, especially when you are a senior player in the team. It becomes your responsibility to calm his nerves down. But Amla shifted to his role of playing the second fiddle as he saw Van der Dussen in golden touch.

Once he became sure that the 29-year old was comfortable at the crease, he started giving away the strike regularly to him. Amla held one end up, kept ticking his scores with singles but didn’t shy away from finding the boundary when he found bad deliveries in his radar.

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Such was the dominance of the two batters that it looked like they would play out full fifty overs. van der Dussen was batting in 93 and Amla on 95 with the team score on 237/1 in the 47th over. A century looked certain for both batsmen.

However, van der Dussen missed his century on debut as he slapped the first ball of the 47th over—a full toss from Hasan Ali—straight into the hands of the mid-off fielder. Their 155 run stand, in which Amla had contributed only around 40 per cent of the runs, had ended.

The dismissal of your batting partner at that stage and on that kind of score can make any batsman who is batting in the nineties nervous as well. But that’s where experience counts.

He followed up van der Dussen’s dismissal with two singles to move on to 97 runs off 110 deliveries, as David Miller joined him at the crease. But he had already decided to go on the offensive and he brought up his century in the most unlikely manner. He slog-swept Mohammad Hafeez on the last delivery of the 48th over and the ball went over the deep mid-wicket boundary for the first six of his innings.

There was the moment. His 27th ODI ton. His first century in a span of 1 year and 2 months. And the smile on his face said that he was cherishing every bit of it.

He could score only five runs off his next seven deliveries but that doesn’t take away anything from his sublime innings of 108 runs scored off just 120 deliveries. Form might not have been on his side of late, age also may not be on his side anymore but his innings today showed that class is permanently on his side.

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