Imran Tahir starts his sprint after claiming the wicket of Chamara Kapugedera. Photo: Reuters

DURBAN – It was not the most polished of performances, but AB de Villiers was enthused by the resilience shown by his men in the Proteas’ 96-run victory to open their ICC Champions Trophy account on Saturday.

The final analysis suggests the most straightforward of victories, but there was concern for a good portion of a pleasant afternoon in London.

For an hour or so, on either side of the change of innings, South Africa had reason for raised eyebrows.

It started with the bat, when they failed to trampoline from 189/1, with more than 16 overs to go, to a total well north of 300. They eventually ended on a reasonable 299/6, thanks mainly to a fine Hashim Amla century, and a typically effusive 75 from Faf du Plessis.

That show of resilience with the ball would have heartened De Villiers, and he would also have been pleased with the way Amla (103) and Du Plessis started slowly, then charged into a position of authority.

It is early days, of course, but the Proteas will be glad for this mini-test. They were put under pressure, and some key men stood up.

The form of Amla, who reeled off an incredible 25th century in the format – the most by a South African, surpassing AB de Villiers in the process – continues to please, while Du Plessis is also in pretty ominous touch.

“I was happy with the way the openers assessed upfront. We saw at the end that it wasn’t as true a wicket as the England-Bangladesh (game),” De Villiers pointed out in the post-mortem.

As for Amla, who became the fastest man to 25 tons, De Villiers, a legend in his own right, continues to be blown away.

“It’s scary the amount of runs he has piled on. He is a great asset in the team, and he also contributes a lot in the dressing-room,” De Villiers said of his run-machine.

Hashim Amla scored his 25th ODI hundred on Saturday. Photo: Reuters

They will know that 299 may have sufficed against a limited Sri Lankan side, but it just won’t do against the powerhouses that lie in wait deeper in the tournament.

They needed JP Duminy (38 not out) to finish in a hurry, and then they watched on as Sri Lanka came out with guns blazing, and sped to 71 inside the first six overs. Always at these tournaments, a big boy finds a banana skin, and is surprised by a Bangladesh or in this case, a rebuilding Sri Lankan outfit.

At that point, there was a need for cool heads, and that was precisely what South Africa’s experienced men provided.

Morné Morkel struck with his second ball, removing the gallivanting Niroshan Dickwella, and that immediately brought the boil down to a simmer.

Imran Tahir – who else – then came in and did what is now second nature to him, turning the match firmly into the Proteas’ slipstream. The ageless assassin ended with 4/27, ending the game and claiming the player of the match, shading his great friend Amla.

“I was quite pleased with the way it came out today, and happy about a great start for our team,” Tahir said after the match.

He was held back until the 18th over by De Villiers, who waited for the Lankan fires to die down before introducing his trump card.

“He knew the situation, but I am always ready to bowl,” Tahir said of his introduction into the attack. “Their openers batted really well, but we stuck to our plans and came back strongly, which was pleasing,” he added.

A team certainly can’t win a tournament in the opening round, but you can set yourselves back enormously.

On Saturday, South Africa found themselves tested, and they will rise on Sunday enthused by how they reacted.

The Proteas will now pause, and take in the cultural collision between Pakistan and India in Birmingham, before they go again against the Pakistanis at Edgbaston on Wednesday.


Independent Media

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