Sri Lanka v South Africa, 2nd Test, SSC, 5th day July 28, 2014

'It was emotionally draining' - Amla


Traditions are the ties that connect groups of people even when individuals change. It is also how sports teams define a philosophy.

An hour-and-a-half after play in Colombo, once the presentation, media engagements and autograph signing was done, the South Africa team walked down the changeroom stairs to applause from a small group of people still hanging around. They made their way past their team bus, whose engine had already spluttered into life and was ready to whisk them off and walked down the SSC tunnel and onto the field. They headed to the surface that was supposed to be their undoing and sang their team song. That's tradition.

The words are still a secret but at least two of them are known. "Protea Fire," is printed on the banner that hangs outside South Africa's changeroom and is also the title of their track. It is not just a catch phrase. It refers to the national flower, the Protea, which is the first to bloom after a fire. Those two words stand for strength - in particular, the strength to prosper even in tough times. It was apt that South Africa had those words on display in Sri Lanka, where they recorded their first Test series win in the country in 21 years.

"We knew that to win a series here, there would be certain times when we would reach our breaking point and we almost did," the captain Hashim Amla said. "But there is resilience. We are a South African team who are very proud and passionate. We always want to go down fighting."

Though they survived, they were made to show their tenacity. Sri Lanka gave themselves around 128 overs to bowl South Africa out and with the composition of their attack and the rate they get through their work that was always likely to be more. It ended up being 111 overs (due to the rain breaks), still a substantial amount of time for a team to resist. Amla and AB de Villiers led the cause and saw off 24-and-a-half of those - more than a fifth.

That display of commitment was what pleased Amla the most about the performance. "The way we batted today, we tried our best to hang in there. You may not win the game but the character you show is the most important thing," Amla said.

Amla had already shown that in the first innings when he spent more than eight hours blunting the Sri Lankan threat. In the second dig, he was around for 10 minutes short of three hours. In total, Amla spent more time on the field than any of his team-mates and as a new captain, that was just the way he wanted to sink his teeth into the job.

"You don't want to be in the changeroom watching. You want to be batting. When I was batting, I took comfort that there were wickets in hand," he said. And when he was dismissed after battling cramp for the latter portions of his innings, the nerves set in because sometimes saving a match can be more difficult than winning one.

"When you looked at this Test, it was almost a mirror image of the first Test but the roles were reversed. To win a Test match you're always on the upper hand. You don't have the pressure of wickets falling maybe but having stuck out a draw, it has a lot more character building because of the way everybody applied themselves," he said. "There was definitely nerves, tension, biting of fingernails in the changeroom. It was emotionally draining."

But those feelings were kept in check by Amla's team-mates and one in particular. "Vernon [Philander] had a brilliant game all round - the way he bowled was brilliant and so was the way he batted in a pressure situation," Amla said. "Vernon has been a high-pressure person for us for a while."

Philander batted with the tail, as he did against Australia in March but this time he did not run out of partners. This is the third time in the last year he has played a part in a South African lower-order fightback, after also saving the Wanderers Test against India with Dale Steyn. He has only been dismissed twice in his last five Test innings and faced 435 balls in that time so all the talk about him being an allrounder is well-founded.

Philander was not the only one Amla singled out. He mentioned Dean Elgar and JP Duminy's centuries in Galle as setting South Africa up and Dale Steyn's nine-for which he said was an "excellent performance which gave us the victory that made us favourites." There was even a word for Morne Morkel, who picked up his 200th Test wicket in the Colombo Test. "He was one of our under-rated bowlers even though he does not get as many accolades.

"The workload is shared. That really helps keep the team ticking," Amla said, describing the current side. It also ensures the traditions they built over the last few years, remains.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Casey on August 2, 2014, 5:32 GMT

    fan1099. not very bright are you mate? saffa's with leading the series 1-0 and failing to put up good total during the 2nd test had to play safe. thus helping them win the test series for the first time. intelligent people have foresight and see the bigger picture. kudos to amla.

  • georgina on August 1, 2014, 7:03 GMT

    Proudly Proteas!. Welldone philander,Steyn and all the team mates. Amla you rock as captain. The SA team truly have character.

  • Dummy4 on July 30, 2014, 14:09 GMT

    Well Done Captain Amla! Protea's deserve to be No 1

  • Devapriya on July 30, 2014, 7:49 GMT

    In cricket batting is to score runs from ballsbowled at the batsman from which the batsman can score runs. Better batsman can score more runs and from more balls where as lesser batsman will find it difficult to score. But if you completely take out the scoring part from batting and block each and every ball you receive is it cricket ? If all teams adopt this tactic even mediocre teams will be able to draw matches as the chances of taking wickets will be very low. The batsman will be not taking any risks by not playing shots thereby taking the risk elemant out of cricket on which this great game has been built around.

  • Dummy4 on July 29, 2014, 8:51 GMT

    Looking at the series stats, Morne should be commended for fantastic bowling effort. Better strike rate, and better average, than Man of the Series - Steyn. (Albeit, 1 wicket less). Congrats Morne, some of us do appreciate your work.

  • Parthiban on July 29, 2014, 3:37 GMT

    Deserved to win. If only sri Lanka had more than sanga and Mathews.

  • Dummy4 on July 29, 2014, 0:36 GMT

    Amla' captaincy and his batting was fantastic in this series. As a player he was the most determined in the 2nd test match despite the fact that he was having fast :) Such a true gentlemen and role model for everyone :) Stay Blessed Amla :) many more success to come :)

  • Vicky on July 29, 2014, 0:18 GMT

    Rasool Bro, I agree with all of it except the 'M' bit. Amla is a great player and a great human being. Only wish you had kept religion out of it. Feels kinda strange reading it in a sports corner where the pure human spirit should excel above all else.

  • varsha on July 28, 2014, 23:00 GMT

    Hats off to Amla, he batted with purpose and tenacity. I admire him and AB as natural strokemakers for always playing according to the match situation and never selfishly. It requires immense control and focus to curb your natural player instinct ball after ball for hundreds of balls. Is it okay for me to ask if Amla was fasting all day during the game (for Ramadan) - considering he is so devout, I thought that might be possible. If he was it would have made his marathon blocking feat actually a superhuman effort.

  • Dummy4 on July 28, 2014, 21:49 GMT

    Kudos to South Africa. Didn't think, they were going to win, let alone win both the ODI and test series. Just shows, how much depth and talent they have in their side. Amla has also managed to prove lot of critics wrong. Hard luck to Sri-Lanka. After Pakistan, both teams are my favourite. Cheers.

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