GALLE – Anyone who has ever encountered Hashim Amla would never mistake him for a gambler. Yet, here in this most intoxicating of sea-side towns four years ago, Amla raised the stakes in his maiden Test as national captain.
Senior Proteas counsel openly opposed Amla’s “sporting” declaration that left their Sri Lankan hosts with 370 to get in just on four sessions. At 110/1 heading into the last day, with the legendary Kumar Sangakkara unbeaten on 58 and his good mate Mahela Jayawardene still to come, the dice was certainly loaded against the tourists.
But Amla always knew that he had the almost nuclear-like force of Dale Steyn up his sleeve. The champion fast bowler had already claimed five wickets in the first innings, and almost on cue delivered yet another venomous spell of reverse-swing bowling to drive South Africa to a famous victory.
It was Steyn at his unadulterated best. The crazy eyes, veins popping and chainsaw celebration it was all there. The theatre of it all is almost tattooed in the heart and minds of Steyn’s team-mates, most notably his current skipper Faf du Plessis, who believes “The Phalaraborwa Express” still has that magic lurking inside of him despite this first Test here being his third comeback in as many years.
“Dale’s X-factor is how he picks up wickets with a reverse-swinging ball. His way of getting wickets with the new ball is getting it to move around a little bit with swing, and a little bit of seam, really consistently,” Du Plessis told reporters at the story-filled ground.
“There’s a period of the game when Dale gets his tail up. He gets one wicket, and is up there with the most dangerous bowlers in the world, because he is so skilful, and he can get the ball to reverse swing at pace. I’m hoping to see Dale bowl really quick again. He hasn’t bowled for a long time, so he’ll be excited to get the opportunity. It’s a good sight to see when he gets the ball reversing, and he’s running in and keeping those legs really, really fast.”
Even with all the rain around and heavy cloud cover that could delay the start of this series - the entire outfield was covered on Wednesday and the Proteas were forced to cancel their training session - it remains highly unlikely that Du Plessis will be tempted to unleash Steyn just yet.
“In general most teams around the world when they come to the subcontinent, the onus on the toss becomes really important. I don’t know how many captains would decide to bowl first on the first day on a dry pitch,” Du Plessis said.
Taking all that into account, Steyn’s march - or should that rather be limp considering his injury travails over the past couple of years - towards overtaking Shaun Pollock’s all-time national record may just have to wait one more agonising day.
When the momentous occasion does indeed finally materialise, it will definitely be cause for major celebration. But until then, Du Plessis wants his team to remain focused in the present especially the batsmen who the skipper believes will hold the aces in this series.
“I do feel within our bowling attack that we have the ability to get 20 wickets on whatever the surface is. But this series will be one where the batters need to stand up from both teams. Sri Lanka is in the same boat.
They’ve got very good spinners and they’ll sit there thinking they’ve got the ability to get 20 wickets as well. That’s where you’ll see the series won or lost - in the batting department,” Du Plessis said.
The teams for Galle are:
South Africa: Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Faf du Plessis (capt), Quinton de Kock (wk), Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn, Tabraiz Shamsi
Sri Lanka: Dimuth Karunaratne, Danushka Gunathilaka, Dhananjaya de Silva, Kusal Mendis, Angelo Mathews, Roshen Silva, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Rangana Herath, Suranga Lakmal (capt), Lakshan Sandakan, Dilruwan Perera.
Start: 6:30am SA time
Broadcast live: SuperSport2