South Africa bat, bat and bat, grinding England into the dirt, led by Hashim Amla’s utterly relentless occupation of the crease.
Hashim Amla is a fine player, as has been in evidence for some time now. And yet it seems to be a commentary axiom to mention that he wasn’t very good when he first came into the side, against India and then England back in 2004/5 (another classic series between these sides). ‘He couldn’t play the short ball’ they cried, time after time, as if the man himself might hear them out in the middle and believe it. The 2012 version of Amla is a different class of player and he accumulated runs perfectly all day. At no point did he look to get after a particular bowler; instead he simply played each ball on its merits, working anything loose away. As far as we can remember (and we required a fair amount of gin to get through the day) there wasn’t a single chance all day, nor a single serious appeal. His loose shot against Ravi Bopara on Friday evening (which flew past Andrew Strauss at slip) seems years ago now.
We should probably mention Graeme Smith as well – his 131 was also a superb innings, particularly in the way he ground his way through the battle of the Graemes in the morning session. Had it not been for some bad luck against the second new ball, he could well have batted all day, leading to the first full wicketless day of Test Cricket in England since 1989.
On an attritional day of cricket, the highlight from an English perspective was one sublime piece of skill from Andrew Strauss. Fielding the ball close in on the leg side, he managed to pick up the ball, flick his sunglasses off his face, throw the ball, demolish said sunglasses and still get the throw in to Prior, all in one fluid movement. For the punch-drunk England fielders this was literally the funniest thing that had ever happened. Despite our best efforts, we hadn’t had quite enough gin to agree with them. The funniest thing to ever happen in cricket remains this classic bit of Australian teamwork:
With three days completed, and the teams essentially level, South Africa have to make a decision about how to best make use of their advantageous position. The pitch looks rather flat, although there was some turn for Swann and the odd bit of variable bounce, so it won’t be straightforward to bowl England out for a second time. The most likely scenario sees South Africa batting until just after tea, building a lead of around 250 and giving themselves a day and a bit to try and bowl the home side out. With such a solid foundation in place, there’s plenty of opportunity to up the scoring rate and it could prove another chastening day for England’s attack.