Galle - Hashim Amla, brow still glistening from the euphoria of winning his first Test in charge of his country by 153 runs, was pretty clear on how he would celebrate the momentous occasion on Sunday.
“We are going to celebrate with a nice cup of tea,” he smiled, his face lighting up at the cheek of it all.
Tea would be apt, in this of all places, and Amla has shown over the last five days that a sense of occasion sits as handily in his arsenal as his sense of adventure. “I just wanted to have as many overs to bowl to try and win the game. It’s not easy to bat last on this wicket,” he said, casting some illumination on his decision to dangle a 370-run carrot at Sri Lanka’s formidable middle-order.
“I thought if we lose the game, so be it, but at least let’s give ourselves the best chance to win the game. I would have had no regrets about declaring on 370 if we had lost,” he added.
As declarations go, it was refreshingly un-South African, because the possibility, however distant, that Sri Lanka could score at three runs an over for four sessions drew the opposition out and played into South Africa’s hands.
Though the Proteas started the final day as favourites, with Sri Lanka still 261 runs away from a miracle, they still needed the reassurance of early wickets to calm the nerves.
“At 110 for one, I thought let’s just get one wicket here. Batting last and chasing 370 is a really tall ask for any team,” Amla reasoned.
“We picked up a few early wickets, which made it a lot easier to maintain the pressure. Once you got one, two, three wickets, you kind of see how the game is unfolding.”
As the Proteas tightened the noose, the Lankans were left to lament a middle-order that simply hasn’t come to the party.
“From the ODI series, our middle-order has not been delivering,” Sri Lankan skipper Angelo Mathews lamented.
“Only Dilshan and Sangakkara have made runs for us, and to expect one man to deliver all the time is wrong. If we had got to tea with wickets in hand, we could have gone for it,” he sighed.
In contrast, there were plenty of heroes for the tourists, who won a first ever Test in Galle, and indeed a first in Sri Lanka in over two decades.
But the skipper could not help but single out his spearhead, Dale Steyn, who completed the best bowling figures by a fast bowler, ending with match figures of 9/99.
“I could look in the dictionary and find a million adjectives to describe him, but I think it was a great performance by a great bowler,”Amla said of his talisman.
Steyn sat next to his captain as the words were uttered, and for the first time in five days, the Phalaborwa Express looked slightly uncomfortable.
As it turns out, Steyn also has trouble getting used to being called a legend by his illustrious bowling coach.
“It helps massively to have Allan (Donald) around. I actually watched a couple of his old videos before I bowled in this Test,” he admitted.
“He’s always telling us how good we are, and what legends we are. It must take a bit out of him to do that, because he is a legend himself. For him to say those things to youngsters like us, I really appreciate it.
“So whenever I do something good, or have some success, I try to acknowledge his help. The wickets are for the whole country, but I like to say thank you to him,” Steyn said, explaining why he always seeks Donald out from afar.
It’s a mutual respect, a bromance even, and Donald will happily talk all day about the incredible skills that his ace possesses. Donald spoke of a look in Steyn’s eye when he arrived here.
The Lankans got very familiar with the wild eyes of Steyn over the last few days, and they will know they are not rid of their haunting presence just yet, with the second Test starting on Thursday.
First Test, Day 5
SA: 455/9 dec, 202/6 dec
Sri Lanka: 292 all out, 216 all out. South Africa won by 153 runs