Proteas in England

SA’s stunning strangle job

2012-07-21 22:36
Hashim Amla (Getty Images)
Cape Town - Call it England’s 135 overs of near-unmitigated misery.

Scorecard after Day 3

One “drag-on” - and a pretty gentle one at that - by Graeme Smith off Tim Bresnan’s bowling was all the top-ranked Test team in the world could muster on day three of the first Test against South Africa at The Oval on Saturday.

It was all Proteas ... as it has largely been for two days, in a major kick in the guts for those of us (this writer will not try to exempt himself) inclined to suspect that they might have entered this match under-prepared.

Instead South Africa are riotously up and running in Test mode after their break of several months - and, after a ropey first day, have transformed this match to a position where they are, at the very least, highly unlikely to lose.

Already 18 runs to the good on the first innings and with as many as eight wickets in hand, Sunday certainly seems to shape up invitingly as “turn the screws day” if they keep their wits about them.

The Proteas must aim to transform their imperious 403 for two into the sort of eventual total that will not even require them to bat again.

And if that scenario comes to fruition, it will be all about footsore and presumably fairly demoralised England’s ability to knuckle down and save the match on a pitch that ought to be genuinely challenging to survive on, certainly come the last day.

The wheel has turned quite dramatically, when you consider that after England’s more than workmanlike day one at the crease, their former captain Michael Vaughan was gleefully tweeting that they had achieved hard yards and were poised to cash in on a “dust bowl by day four”.

Only it hasn’t quite turned out that way, thanks in no small measure to the mastery of established old batting foxes Smith, Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis, the first two having registered centuries - Amla still there and closing in on a second personal double-ton - and Kallis within breathing distance of his own Test century No 43.

Amla, ever watchful, unflustered and impenetrable, has a good shout at eclipsing his best Test score of 253, achieved against India at Nagpur in February 2010.

How apt for captain Smith, too, that he should mark his 100th Test by getting to three figures. It may not have come in his own country, which would obviously have been first prize for his fans, but doing it in England, where he has always been hugely respected and against whom he has routinely sparkled, is a damned fine outcome all the same.

He becomes the seventh player to mark 100 caps with a century, and by way of cherry on top the first South African.

As much as anything else, the Proteas have started to accumulate some very handy psychological points in the greater series context.

By the end of Saturday’s play, England were looking noticeably leaden and glum, their four-man specialist attack - remember that South Africa can boast five such customers - more than kept at bay.

The off-spinner Graeme Swann boasts a great wicket-taking record at The Oval, and was considered before the series started to be a potentially honours-tilting factor, but thus far in this Test has wheeled away for as many as 42 overs without anything to show in the scalps column.

To his credit, he is only conceding runs at not much above two to the over, but that statistic may come under pressure as South Africa seek to push on ever more forcefully on Sunday.

Perhaps the person to feel really sorry for right now is the only Proteas man in the top order to miss out on the orgy: Alviro Petersen’s duck - something that openers can be especially susceptible to, let’s face it - sticks out like a sore thumb on the scoreboard.

He is like the inconsolable lone kid at the birthday bash not to leave with a party pack, but he will doubtless bounce back.

Can England, in this Test, or do the Proteas have them on the ropes and ready to tumble to the canvas?

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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