Sri Lanka v South Africa, 1st ODI, Colombo July 6, 2014

County stint with Surrey serves Amla well


We are told that the modern cricketer needs time off because of the rigours of the modern cricketing schedule. But sometimes, there is no substitute for good old-fashioned game time. Today, Hashim Amla showed why.

Amla crafted the 13th ODI century of his career to sculpt South Africa's big win. His was a well-paced match-winning knock which began cautiously, found its centre in a 151-run partnership with AB de Villiers, and then blossomed as it reached three figures.

It was the second time Amla had a scored a second-innings hundred on this visit to Sri Lanka - the first came in Thursday's warm-up match - and it turns out there is a very good reason for the batsman's hot-streak. "I think he prepared really well for this series by playing at Surrey for a month of two," de Villiers said. "He got his technique in order there."

Amla was the only member of South Africa's ODI squad involved in county cricket before this series, and although he was typically modest about it ("sometimes it just rolls for you and it rolls," he had said whimsically), he admitted that "playing a bit of cricket in the county stint," helped. That much was clearly evident.

Amla was able to negotiate the early parts of the innings when he battled to get the ball away on the drive and demonstrated the patience needed to profit later when it became easier to bat.

"At first, we hung there," Amla said. "Quinny got away a little but I just hung in and tried to support him in that phase. We took a little bit of time to settle and the wicket also got a little better."

So did the bowling challenge. While Sri Lanka were hopeful of tangling South Africa in a web of turn, the surface did not support that and Amla himself grew comfortable against the spinners.

"We played them on merit. It didn't turn a hell of a lot," he said. "AB and I managed to get a rhythm going and rotate the strike but as the partnership progressed, it got easier. With AB at the end, the intensity is there, and you know you're probably going to score quickly. These guys are good bowlers but the wicket didn't turn a lot."

De Villiers was similarly pleased with the surface, which he felt did not provide any obvious advantage to particular players. "It was a good wicket throughout the 90 overs. There were no demons in there," he said. "There was not a lot of turn but enough for the spinners to work with. There was also not a lot of seam movement or swing but enough to keep the seamers interested."

Despite the rich rewards on offer for the bowlers, both de Villiers and Amla, and later Kumar Sangakkara, provided ample proof that there were runs to be scored as well. In Amla's case, however, it was hardly surprising, considering the rich vein of form he was in coming into the series.

Having signed with Surrey to replace Graeme Smith, who had to return home for knee surgery, Amla played for the county from the end of May in both the long and short formats of the game, and scored three half-centuries in his last four innings.

Following the IPL which featured 11 of South Africa's current squad members, most of Amla's team-mates have had the last month off. The remaining three members, Vernon Philander, Aaron Phangiso and Ryan McLaren, have not played any matches since the end of the South African summer, something the South African management may want to address ahead of future tours in the winter.

For now, there is good news on the horizon. Two of South Africa's Test players for the upcoming series have also spent time on the county circuit. Opening batsman Alviro Petersen is with Somerset and will play one more four-day game for them before making his way to Sri Lanka next Friday. Petersen has not had many big scores, but made 73 in a county championship match last weekend and hit 155 in the beginning of June.

The other player, Kyle Abbott, who is with Hampshire, is their highest wicket-taker so far. His 36 scalps have included two five-fors and come at an average of 18.25.

South Africa, however, would do well not to get too carried away about the form these batsmen might bring to Sri Lanka. As majestic as Amla's knock was, he did ride his luck. He was dropped on 49, and was on 42 when Sri Lanka appealed and reviewed what they thought was a chance to have him caught behind.

Amla, however, was certain that his innings should not have ended there. "I heard a sound but I didn't feel anything," he said. "I obviously can't walk if I am not 100% sure that I did it."

So Amla is human after all.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mohamed on July 8, 2014, 15:02 GMT

    English County Cricket is good for all Test Cricketers. As a West Indian, I should know. It is no secret that the WI descent into mediocrity can be tied to the lack of WI Test players honing their craft in County Cricket. At the top of our game, almost all of the great West Indians played county cricket. The conditions are different and can change from one hour to the next, the competition was good and they get to practice their skill and craft with other professionals on a daily basis in the middle. We all know that Chanderpaul is the most consistent batsman in the WI for the last decade and then some, so it should be no surprise that he in the only WI test player who plays regularly in County Cricket. Of course, the T/20s and the money thrown at the players today are now part of the problem. So, there is no easy fix for the likes of K. Pollard, D. Sammy, D. Bravo and the other WI test players. The schedule is too packed with meaningless matches. Thankk you. Mohamed Z. Rahaman

  • Pundit on July 7, 2014, 15:48 GMT

    Thank you ...Recece and Greatest game. County cricket does not make cricketers of the calibre of Hashim, Viv, Lara, Imran khan, Tendulkar etc etc otherwise it would produce them. England's best run getters are from where?

    As to what to know or don't know....let me assure I have played myself!! At best the system for overseas cricketers is better than having a net and earning some money. It may be a good for youngsters starting up...but not Hashim has been brought in much tougher conditions

  • Jonathan on July 7, 2014, 14:02 GMT

    While there's no denying that you'll find good players and... not-so-good players in the county circuit (like every domestic competition everywhere), to some extent it doesn't matter. What is it that old Boycott always says, when he's not murmuring about pinnies and rhubarb? "Time in the middle is better than any amount of time in the nets." Amla had some time in the middle. Not to mention the experience it'll have given him of non-South African conditions, albeit different to Sri Lankan ones.

    At the end of the day, the man himself said that it helped. Who the heck are we to argue with him?

  • mohd. on July 7, 2014, 7:44 GMT

    HASHIM AMLA is a great player of recent times and to say that county stint helped him is RIDICULOUS. He has been playing a anchoring role for south african cricket from last few years and SOUTH AFRICA should be proud of having in the team since they have won Many games because of him only.Great going hashim.

  • Arif on July 7, 2014, 5:42 GMT

    Diaz. Ajmal is a great bowler and his success at the Country matches, isn't much of a surprise. But that doesn't mean, the county circuit is full of mediocrity. In fact, many Pakistani bowlers greatly benefited from taking part in such competition; Wasim Akram, Waqar, Junaid Khan, Imran Khan etc. Even Zaheer Khan from India mentioned how playing in Country matches, helped improve his game and add more variations.

  • David on July 7, 2014, 4:42 GMT

    @ Diaz54. I'm not English, but I do know that county has helped every cricket playing country develop their talent. It has been the training ground for cricketers from over the world, & because it is such good training, international cricketers from all over the world still play county!

    You may not know, or forget, that Amla recently went through a slump. He was playing county to get himself to peak condition. Before the SL tour to Eng, Kumar Sangakkara played county to get used to conditions, & be at the top of his game. Look at the results.

    Ajmal takes wickets because he is a great bowler. I just checked the 2014 county stats, & he is the leading wicket taker in 1st class! Of the top 45 wicket takers, he has BOWLED THE MOST OVERS - 358.3!

    In T20s, CJ Russell, in 7 games/27 overs has 16 wickets @ 14.43. Ajmal, after 9 games/35 overs has 9 wickets @ 24.44. He is number 29 on the list.

    Not quite the picture that you painted, is it? Seems you don't know as much as you think you know!

  • reece on July 6, 2014, 22:36 GMT

    diaz. what u on about mate? county matches ain't soft and it does help players become better ay.

  • Pundit on July 6, 2014, 20:13 GMT

    County stint helps him! No I don't think so....Amla is simply a great batsman!! County circuit is full,of mediocrity. Ajmal comes and in 6 games has half as many wickets than anybody else!

  • Dummy4 on July 6, 2014, 18:49 GMT

    Excellent knock by Amla. If he plays well and scores runs in bunches, SA will have an excellent chance to win. Anyway, Ramzan Mubarak and all the best Amla.

  • Nadeem on July 6, 2014, 15:31 GMT

    Great innings by Amla. Love his batting.

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