Amla pleased with South Africa's intensity
Hashim Amla doesn't have fond memories of the last time he captained South Africa in a limited-overs tri-series in Zimbabwe. Two years ago, he led a T20 side on an unofficial tour, managed just one fifty and lost to the hosts in the final. He was only a stand-in today, with AB de Villiers rested due to a minor illness, but this match was all the more satisfying after.
"Why would you bring that up now?" Amla said when jokingly asked about his experiences in 2012. "I did think about it, and somebody mentioned it to me last night, but it's a bit of a different team and it's a fifty-over game so I had full confidence that 230 was defendable, even though we were missing two star players in AB and Morne. It's a good performance and I think it's always sweeter when you win after being under a bit of pressure."
South Africa were under a great deal of pressure when Prosper Utseya, the Zimbabwean offspinner heralded more for his economy than his wicket-taking abilities, ripped through the middle order to reduce South Africa from 142 for 0 to 155 for 5. They eventually limped to 231 all out - a total which was, fortunately for South Africa, more than enough after an insipid Zimbabwean chase.
"We were 50 or 60 runs short, but with these sort of totals you have to make it defendable," Amla said. "And we made it defendable. It's really disappointing but blowouts like that do happen in the game, although usually what happens is you have your blowout and you lose the game. We've had our blowout and we've won the game so hopefully that's us done for the series as far as batting errors go. Prosper bowled well so credit to him. Coming to the next game I guess there are a few guys in our team who are due runs, so it's a good space to be in that respect."
Amla suggested that South Africa's low total actually spurred them on to bowl with even greater vigour, as every run and wicket really counted. Indeed, one criticism that South Africa faced during their one-day series against Zimbabwe is that they took things a little too easily. That wasn't the case today.
"Had we scored 300 or 350 and won the game, the intensity in the field wouldn't have been as good as we normally have, so having 230 on the board kept everyone in the game so that's the pleasing aspect - that we were in the game until they lost the ninth wicket," Amla said. "Because a few big hits here or there, 60 runs is not a big margin to win by. So in the context of the game, we take a lot of confidence from that."
Amla was also pleased with the performance of his own spinners in conditions which helped them. Imran Tahir and Aaron Phangiso combined to take the wickets of Sikandar Raza, Hamilton Masakadza and Brendan Taylor, snapping the back of Zimbabwe's resistance.
"The funny thing is I think Prosper got most of his wickets with the ones that didn't turn, which is skill from his side, but also with the wicket, the odd one was turning and others weren't. Their spinners bowled quite well and tied the game up in the middle period and the wicket got better to bat on. But our spinners are quality spinners, so although the wicket wasn't turning as much, their accuracy and their skill factor helped and got us to victory."
Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town