England v South Africa: Amla and Smith put tourists in command

By Stephan ShemiltBBC Sport at The Oval
Hashim Amla
Hashim Amla
First Test, day three, The Oval
England 385 v South Africa 403-2

Hashim Amla and Graeme Smith hit centuries as South Africa took complete control of the first Test against England on day three at The Kia Oval.

Amla ended the day unbeaten on 183 - after Smith, in his 100th Test, had fallen for 131 - to help the tourists to 403-2 and a first-innings lead of 18.

Such was the dominance of bat over ball that the dismissal of Smith, bowled by Tim Bresnan via an inside edge to end a partnership of 259 with Amla, was the only wicket to fall all day.

Any hopes England had of making further inroads were snuffed out by Jacques Kallis, who shared an unbroken third-wicket partnership of 143 with Amla and was 82 not out at the close.

From such a position, Smith's side will be looking to bat on deep into the fourth day, reaching a total that would leave England with the only realistic aim of surviving to claim a draw.

Should such a situation arise, Andrew Strauss's men will take heart from the fact that the pitch is offering virtually no assistance to the fast bowlers and only slow turn for the spinners.

On day two, when clouds covered south-east London, pacemen from both sides were able to find movement in the air.

However, when the clouds cleared, Smith and Amla were able to make untroubled progress and that served to give England a preview of the demoralising experience they would have to endure on a warm, largely clear Saturday.

The home attack stuck to their task, bowling with discipline to often imaginative field settings, which is perhaps all that could be expected in conditions ideal for batting.

The workmanlike Smith, scoring almost exclusively on the leg side, and Amla, seemingly only coming forward to unleash cover drives of the highest class, absorbed all England could throw at them in the first hour, then scored more freely either side of lunch.

Smith's second fifty came from only 41 balls, with the left-hander cutting Bresnan for four to become only the seventh man to score a century in his 100th Test. On the 24 other occasions that he has passed three figures, South Africa have not lost.

Amla followed his skipper to three figures soon after, with England's desperation for a wicket evident when they wasted a review on an lbw shout against Smith on a ball from Bresnan that pitched a long way outside leg stump.

Their hopes of breaking the partnership now seemingly rested on the second new ball, and so it proved.

Bresnan, who in the morning session had to watch Ravi Bopara bowl before being called into the attack, drew an inside edge from Smith, which trickled on to the stumps after hitting the left-hander's pad.

Smith, who will return to South Africa before the second Test at Headingley to attend the birth of his first child, left to a standing ovation.

However, that would prove to be the highlight of England's day as Kallis arrived to dispel any suggestion of a fightback.

Batting with typical class - one cover drive off Bresnan was arguably the shot of the match so far - the veteran all-rounder moved to his 56th Test half-century without a single uncomfortable moment.

At the other end, Amla continued to accumulate free from alarm, moving his team into a position from which defeat now looks highly unlikely.

England's last hope will be to make early inroads on the fourth morning, but, in reality, they face the prospect of batting to save the game on a flat track that has shown only tiny glimpses of uneven bounce.

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