Amla wants to harness Port Elizabeth momentum
It's rare for Hashim Amla to deliver the fighting talk, except with the bat, but South Africa's No. 3 believes his side has the edge heading into the series decider in Cape Town. Although both teams earned comprehensive results over each other, Amla said victory in their most recent tussle means it's advantage South Africa going into the final match.
"Winning the second Test gives us momentum and confidence. Guys got hundreds, and the guys are bowling well," Amla said. "It's probably a better situation going into the final Test having won the second."
Amla was one of the batsmen who reached a century in Port Elizabeth, ending a short dry spell that lasted seven innings without a fifty. In numbers terms it was not much, and JP Duminy went the same amount of time without a half-century to his name, but Amla's methods of dismissal were cause for concern. Amla was getting out cheaply either after being caught in his crease and playing down the wrong line, or fishing outside the offstump.
But those technicalities were not on Amla's mind when he approached the second innings in Port Elizabeth because he was dealing with the discomfort of a dislocated finger. "We managed to numb the pain occasionally. I had it strapped up quite nicely too. There were times in the innings when the painkillers wore off," he said. "Sometimes you go through a few innings when you don't score runs. It's part of the game. It's happened to players in the past, it's happened to everybody. There's no doubt it can happen to an average player like myself. I'm just glad I managed to get some runs and put the team in a really good position to win it."
Although Amla played down his own ability, his captain, Graeme Smith, confirmed the dressing room never doubted Amla at all. "He has been incredible and it's only natural that someone will have dips and up curves in a career. For us, it's about knowing the type of people you want involved in your team and Hashim is one of them," Smith said. "It meant a lot to all of us, to see him respond. No one ever questions his ability. He is a real quality cricketer."
Amla's pedigree, statistically speaking, is now equal to Gary Kirsten, who also scored 21 hundreds for South Africa. Of his countrymen, only Jacques Kallis (45) and Graeme Smith (27) have more but like them, the numbers don't mean as much to Amla as much as the context in which they come up. "I play every game like it's my last. I'm just grateful for those 21 hundreds," he said. "It feels like just the other day I started playing international cricket. The best thing is to score runs in a winning cause."
Orchestrating victories is something Amla is developing a knack of. More than half his 21 hundreds, 11 to be precise, have come in wining causes including his double-hundred at Nagpur in 2010, his triple at The Oval in 2012 and his 196 in Perth later that same year. While all those knocks were special for different reasons, Amla cited the latest one as being particularly special because it formed the backbone of one of South Africa's most courageous comebacks.
"Over the last few years we've had quite a few fightbacks - to win Tests as well as draw - like the one at the Wanderers, and the one in Adelaide. There have been some really memorable Test matches, and this one does go down as one of them because we came out on top," Amla said. "The guys applied themselves late in the evening here, we felt we didn't want to leave it to the last day."
Rain dripped over Port Elizabeth on Monday, not as much as was feared but cricket would have been limited. South Africa responded to that by upping the ante on the fourth afternoon to ensure they take a level-playing field to Cape Town, where the now in-form Amla believes they can become the first South African team since readmission to beat Australia in a series at home. "Newlands has been a happy ground for the Proteas for the last few years," he said. "But the Aussies are a good team. There's a lot riding on the last Test and fortunately we've got a bit of momentum."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent