London – Hashim Amla did more than just anchor the Proteas’ innings yet again at The Oval here on Saturday … he bagged himself membership of a further, elite group of cricketers.
Amla, fast regaining his ruthlessness and reliability of old at the crease, proved the bedrock of the South African climb – you’d have to call it that rather than surge, perhaps -- to a total of 299 for six after being asked to bat by Sri Lanka in their opening ICC Champions Trophy match.
It was vintage calm, languid Amla as the 34-year-old veteran, seldom genuinely troubled even if his tempo varied appreciably at times, amassed 103 in a SA innings not helped by some injudicious shot selection from others around him.
The target of precisely 300 would certainly have given the underdogs a healthy scent of chase-down, given recent statistical history at the venue.
Amla’s main blemish in the otherwise commanding knock also proved his undoing just at a stage when the Proteas least needed it.
When it seemed increasingly feasible that he would bat reassuringly right through to the finish, an unwise decision to turn for a second run midway through the 43rdover saw him quite comfortably run out.
Nevertheless, his knock was enough to get him to his 25th one-day international century – the first South African to reach that figure.
It also meant he added to the membership of the global club of batsmen to have gone to or beyond that particular milestone: already in the group are Sachin Tendulkar (49), Ricky Ponting (30), Sanath Jayasuriya (28), Virat Kohli (27) and Kumar Sangakkara (25).
Of that list, only Kohli and now naturally Amla are still active in international cricket.
The Proteas would not have lunched too comfortably, knowing that a healthier 330-plus had seemed within their scope at times.
In the opening match of the tournament at the same venue just two days earlier, Bangladesh had failed glaringly to defend 305 against host nation England, who waltzed past it early in the 48th over with only two wickets down.
The Proteas could not complain about some of the set-up work, a phase marked by the polished second-wicket stand of 145 in some 21 overs between Amla and Faf du Plessis (75 off 70 balls, in which he middled the ball beautifully for the most part).
But captain AB de Villiers (4) and then David Miller (18) would not have wished to see their shot selections reviewed too frequently, although there was a late flourish of sorts from JP Duminy, who ended with an unbeaten 38 off 20 deliveries, including a driven six off the last ball of the innings.
As for the ‘Lankans, their professionalism was a feature, with some intelligence and control to their death bowling and a lively collective display of reflex ground fielding and throwing-in.
Their main obstacle in the chase could well be mental, as they have lost all of their last seven ODIs in a row to the Proteas.
*Rob Houwing is attending the Champions Trophy for Sport24. Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing