By MO BHANA
Hashim Amla became the fastest man to reach 25 centuries in one day International cricket, taking only 151 innings to beat India captain Virat Kohli, who took 162 to reach the milestone.
Amla arrived in England to take part in the ICC Champions Trophy opener on the back of an IPL campaign where he finished sixth on the run charts, with 420 runs at 60.00.
He was allowed to adopt a more carefree approach to a game that can sometimes become so serious that batsmen lose their spontaneity.
However, he has joined the South Africa squad with what seems is a new focus, knowing that, like many of the older players, the time to win a major tournament is likely limited to the next two years.
He took on the responsibility South Africa needed against a Sri Lanka attack that was not entirely threatening but bookended the innings with fairly tight spells.
Amla used the mid-section to press home South Africa’s advantage. He upped the tempo, he punished the bad balls and put his team in a winning position.
His 115-ball knock was a perfect example of the calm and poise demeanour of the Durban-born player, who hit his second century of 2017 with the previous one (154) also being against Sri Lanka in February.
South Africa started very slowly in their Group A opener against Sri Lanka, scoring only 32 in the first 10 overs. But once Amla and wicketkeeper-batsman Quinton de Kock settled in, the run rate started to increase.
After de Kock was sent back to the pavilion for 23, Amla combined well with Faf du Plessis to put strike a 145-run stand for the second wicket which gave South Africa the platform to put up a big score of 299/6.
South Africa lost du Plessis (75) but Amla played with caution after the departure of De Villiers (4), focusing on rebuilding the innings with David Miller (18) and eventually reached his century in the 42nd over.
He remained steady at the crease to become the fastest man to reach 25 centuries in ODI cricket.
However, a tired Amla was soon run out, a despairing dive while coming back for a second was not enough to prevent Dickwella whipping off the bails after good work in the field by Mendis.
After the match, AB de Villiers saluted Hashim Amla and Imran Tahir who took four for 27 – and celebrated each wicket wildly – as Sri Lanka were bowled out for 203, giving the Proteas a 96-run win.
“It was an amazing innings,” said skipper de Villiers. “He did really well to assess the conditions.
“It was important not to lose early wickets and it was really tough to score early on. We knew it would be important to have a foundation.
“We felt 275 would be par so we were really happy to get around 300. Hash obviously played a huge role in that.
“Even though we won by almost 100 runs they were only a partnership or two from getting really close.”