By the end of his career, there will probably be anthologies written about all the elegant runs Hashim Amla has scored, but from 22 yards away he could really appreciate the value of just a single run.
It was the single that began Stiaan van Zyl’s Test career and the left-hander returned to the changeroom exactly a hundred runs later having joined the select band of batsmen who have scored a century on debut.
The single came as he flicked left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn through short-leg and Amla met Van Zyl in the middle of the pitch and said “I know it’s only just one run, but very well done!”
Van Zyl smiled in relief and went about knocking up an impressive 129-ball century in the first Test against the West Indies at Centurion on Thursday.
It was not without its troubles, however, particularly at the start when he almost edged his first ball to leg-gully off Benn and was dropped in the same position off the giant left-arm spinner on two.
“I was very nervous, before the first ball my gloves were wet. Benn is a bit taller than your normal spinner [Amla pointed out that he releases the ball from about three metres high!] and there was a bit of bounce and turn. It was a rough start but it became a bit easier.
“It’s obviously a big stage, but I told myself that it’s just the same old cricket ball coming at you. I just wanted to get past 10, to feel my way in, and once I got 50 I thought a hundred might be possible. Fortunately they gave me enough bad balls for me to get there,” Van Zyl said.
The left-hander added that the experience gained over the course of his 96 first-class games also helped, as did the foundation laid by playing for the all-conquering Cape Cobras side.
Although he was given the ideal platform by Amla and De Villiers’ record fourth-wicket stand of 308, it did not make his task any easier that he had to wait for over five hours with his pads on.
“We lost three quick wickets and my pads were on, and then every ball could be the one that brings you in. So it was quite mentally draining and I had to walk around and try and focus on other stuff. It’s a different ball game coming in at 365 for four compared to 50 for three, so the platform took the pressure off and I was able to just play freely,” Van Zyl said.
The 27-year-old’s brisk innings was also important as it appertains to the match situation, allowing South Africa to declare on 552 for five half-an-hour before the scheduled tea break. That should have given the hosts 38 overs in which to knock over the West Indian top-order, but a typical summer thunderstorm washed out that possibility, with no more play possible on the second day.
“We were looking to score runs, with rain around, and I wanted to declare earlier rather than later, plus there was always going to be bad light. We wanted to score quickly to give us as much time as possible to bowl at them. Now we have three days to get 20 wickets and hopefully the pitch sweating under the covers a bit might work in our favour,” captain Amla said.
Although the pitch has flattened out a bit, South Africa’s total is surely insuperable for a West Indies batting line-up that has averaged just 262 runs per innings in South Africa.
“The team is in position, we were in trouble but AB and I had a crucial partnership when the pitch still had a bit in it. I’m really happy to get some runs [208!] and the pitch still has a bit in it up front if you bowl in the right area. There are a few divots because it was quite soft on the first day and we have a good score on the board for what I consider the best attack in the world to bowl at,” Amla said.