They have already lost the series and have an impossible target to chase for victory, but the South Africans aren’t giving up that easily on day four of the fourth Test in Delhi, ending the day on a resolute 72/2 in all of 72 overs – yes, 72 overs.
And it was Amla and De Villiers, along with new opener Temba Bavuma, who produced a dogged rearguard action to take the match into a fifth day.
With a target of 481 set for victory after Ajinkya Rahane scored his second hundred of the match to take India to 267/5 declared, it seemed almost inevitable that Virat Kohli’s men would run through the Proteas line-up as quickly as they have throughout the series and in the first innings of this Test, when South Africa could only muster 121.
But Ravichandran Ashwin and company didn’t expect Bavuma, playing in just his fifth Test, to take the initiative and show his more experienced colleagues how to deal with the Indian attack.
Dean Elgar (4) ended a forgettable Test series with the bat with another disappointing dismissal as Ashwin lured him into pushing hard at a dipping off-break that spun sharply and produced a puff of dust, and the ball found the edge and carried to Rahane at slip.
Amla then came in and tried to dent the Indian bowlers’ enthusiasm by just blocking every ball, and it took him 46 deliveries to get off the mark.
Bavuma also started cautiously, working his way to eight off 50 balls before he rocked back and pulled Ashwin of all people over midwicket for six.
The 25-year-old Lions batsman who hails from Langa soon found his groove, though, and played Ashwin and left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja with relative ease. He helped himself to four further boundaries, but just when it seemed he was set for a big score, Ashwin grabbed his 28th wicket in the series.
Having bowled a leg-spin ball to Amla that found the inside edge and just evaded the short-leg fielder earlier in the over, off-spinner Ashwin produced a similar delivery to Bavuma (34 off 117 balls, 4x4, 1x6) that straightened and clipped the off-stump, with the right-hander playing for the turn.
Proteas coach Russell Domingo made a positive decision to move De Villiers up the order to No 4, and the ODI skipper immediately took his cue from Amla. For a man renowned as an entertainer who plays the most majestic shots on a cricket field, De Villiers was patience personified as he kept out the Indian attack with a broad bat.
It took De Villiers 33 balls to get off the mark, and the Proteas pair continued to frustrate the home side, blocking ball after ball until Kohli decided to introduce part-time spinner Shikhar Dhawan into the attack.
And the Indian opening batsman nearly made the breakthrough, inducing an edge from Amla that just evaded Cheteshwar Pujara at silly point.
But this was the day that the Proteas were going to show some serious application, in stark contrast to their efforts in the rest of the Test series.
Amla laboured to 23 not out off a remarkable 207 balls (3x4), while De Villiers ended on 11 not out off 91 deliveries (1x4).
But Monday is another day, with the pitch sure to assist Ashwin and friends to an even greater extent.
And if India can whittle out just one of Amla and De Villiers, it will expose the brittle middle-order of Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy and Dane Vilas.
The Proteas, though, will recall past experiences in Durban against England and Adelaide against Australia to make them believe that they can hold out for an epic draw, with the further 409 runs required for victory not even remotely entering the equation on this turning pitch.
They have an impossible target to chase for victory, bu SA aren’t giving up that easily on day four of the fourth Test in Delhi.
Original source: Amla, De Villiers grind it out