Amla, de Villiers propel SA to 304
50 overs South Africa 304 for 5 (Amla 109, de Villiers 75, Mendis 3-61) v Sri Lanka
What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago in Sri Lanka, South Africa could not manage a single total over 250 or one centurion across the five matches. Halfway through the first ODI of this visit, they've got both.
Hashim Amla, who will captain the Test side later this month, anchored the innings with a hard-fought hundred and starred in a 151-run partnership with AB de Villiers to ensure South Africa posted their highest score in Sri Lanka. The pair battled the slow pitch, the stranglehold of Sri Lanka spinners and the stifling heat to set South Africa up for a final assault. That came in the form of David Miller, who led a charge of 53 runs in the last five overs to leave Sri Lanka wondering whether they had made a tactical error in the field.
Lasith Malinga bowled only seven overs while Nuwan Kulasekera and Angelo Mathews, who conceded 4.33 and five runs to the over, bowled six apiece. Mathews chose to bowl out his spinners, Sachithra Senanayake and Ajantha Mendis, while also giving Ashan Priyanjan and Tillakaratne Dilshan 11 overs between them, which cost Sri Lanka 78 runs. Sri Lanka also dropped both de Villiers and Amla, mistakes for which they may yet to be made to pay.
The pitch showed early signs of sluggishness as Amla struggled to get the ball away on the drive and spin was introduced in the fifth over in the form of Senanayake. He pushed the pause button a little further with two tight overs but Quinton de Kock broke the shackles when he danced down the track to loft him over midwicket for the first six of the innings.
The young wicketkeeper-batsman demonstrated immense improvement against spin from last year and played Senanayake and Ajantha Mendis with confidence. He was undone eventually, not by turn but by his own overeagerness when he played a drive too early off Mathews and chopped it on.
Sri Lanka had a small opening but it was prised much further when three balls later, Mendis struck Jacques Kallis on the back pad. Kallis did not read the carrom ball and played around it. His comeback had raised multiple questions about who to leave out and where he should bat and those will all be debated again in light of this match.
One of the oft-mulled issues of South African cricket is whether de Villiers should bat higher, something he has indicated he'd like to do, and there was an argument in favour of that notion again. De Villiers hit his stride almost immediately, picking the gap in front of point for four off the sixth ball he faced, and settling into rotating the strike.
But not even de Villiers was perfect. He offered an early chance when he hit Mendis in the air as he tried to go down the ground. Mathews ran in from mid-off and got to the ball but could not hold on to it. De Villiers was on 17 then.
Mathews was frustrated and it showed when in the next over he reviewed a caught-behind off Amla. Although Kumar Sangakkara went up immediately as Amla missed the hook, the not-out decision from Steve Davis did not appear obviously incorrect. Replays showed no conclusive evidence to overturn the on-field decision with no Hotspot. Amla was on 42.
Sri Lanka's irritation only had cause to grow. Amla collected seven more runs to approach his half-century and then decided to get there by lofting Priyanjan for six. He mistimed the attempt but Thisara Perera, on as a substitute, came in from long-on and palmed it. Amla got to fifty with that let-off.
South Africa called for the batting Powerplay in the next over, the 24th, and managed a healthy 34 runs in the five-over period. De Villiers brought up his half-century shortly afterwards, off 52 balls. With the pair at the crease, South Africa could eye a 300-plus target and Sri Lanka appeared out of ideas.
It took a moment of fortune for the hosts to find a way back. De Villiers had a lapse in concentration and lazily hit Mendis to long-off to end his innings on 75 off 70. Amla was nine short of his century then and got there with JP Duminy at the other end.
South Africa's run-rate had slowed, though, and Amla realised it was time to increase it but when he moved outside off stump to sweep Mendis, he was trapped lbw. Duminy struggled to get going and scooped the ball to short cover as Sri Lanka pulled things back. But Miller finally made good of his role as a finisher and his array of big hits at the end took South Africa over 300.