Strauss blow rocks England
An England side minus their captain must survive a final-day barrage from South Africa if they are to save the opening Test at Centurion.
Hashim Amla’s classy hundred, allied to rapid half-centuries for AB de Villiers and Mark Boucher, enabled South Africa to declare on 301 for seven this evening.
That left England chasing 364 to win - more than any side has managed on South African soil - but the loss of Andrew Strauss in the second of six overs possible before the close surely means batting out three sessions is a much more realistic, however unpalatable, prospect.
Strauss fell for one to a fired-up Morne Morkel, who extracted sufficient life out of a barren surface during a hostile burst to suggest England can expect the sternest of examinations when they resume on 11 for one tomorrow.
In truth, the pitch played better during South Africa’s second innings than the increasingly large cracks suggested it might, with the exception of Amla’s dismissal courtesy of a shooter from James Anderson.
It was an unfortunate end to a majestic innings which simultaneously rescued South Africa from the depths of 46 for four and ended England’s hopes of limiting their hosts to a manageable total.
Amla batted with immense composure and no little style in making 100, sharing stands of 119 and 75 with de Villiers and Boucher for the fifth and seventh wickets respectively.
De Villiers’ pugnacious 64 helped check England’s momentum after a fine start, while Boucher blazed his way to 63 not out off just 72 balls to hasten South Africa’s declaration as the shadows lengthened at SuperSport Park.
England’s shattered nerves at the close of play mirrored South Africa’s for much of the morning session, which began with Anderson bowling nightwatchman Paul Harris around his legs with the assistance of his loose trousers.
England, no doubt aware that their task would become all the more difficult when the shine wore off the Kookaburra ball, showed great discipline early on, and Graham Onions was rewarded when he nipped one back to bowl Graeme Smith through the gate with the aid of a faint inside edge.
The most telling blow, however, was landed by Stuart Broad, who induced first-innings centurion Jacques Kallis to pull a short delivery to deep square-leg after labouring 32 balls over his four. Alastair Cook made good ground to his left to take a smart catch within inches of the rope.
Although Amla punched Onions and Anderson off the back foot through point, he was initially less secure against the probing Graeme Swann.
De Villiers, on the other hand, signalled his positive intent by advancing down the track to lift the off-spinner over midwicket for six early in his innings, and both batsmen traded cover drives as their partnership blossomed either side of lunch.
The advent of reverse-swing failed to worry Amla and de Villiers, and the unforgiving nature of the surface was underlined when Swann and Onions were punished for dropping short.
Amla went to 50 with a slightly fortuitous drive over mid-on at Swann’s expense, but the high point of England’s frustration came when they mounted a second unsuccessful review of an lbw decision.
If Aleem Dar’s earlier not-out verdict against Amla was correctly upheld after the batsman was struck outside the line of off stump by Swann, Onions could feel aggrieved at having a legitimate shout against de Villiers turned down by both Steve Davis and third umpire Amiesh Saheba.
De Villiers had made 47 when he was hit halfway up his front pad, but Davis rejected the appeal and, despite Hawk-Eye suggesting more than half the ball would have hit leg stump, his decision stood, much to England’s chagrin. This issue, one suspects, is here to stay.
To compound England’s disappointment, de Villiers went to a 70-ball half-century moments later, and brought up the hundred stand with an emphatic cut off Paul Collingwood.
It needed an uppish drive from de Villiers - and a splendid diving catch from Ian Bell at short extra-cover - to break the partnership, and JP Duminy failed to overturn Davis’ positive lbw verdict in the third over after tea to give England renewed hope.
Amla and Boucher snuffed that out in some style, the former moving serenely to three figures with a series of languid drives through point while Boucher combined his favoured cut shot with some meaty leg-side blows, most notably when he drilled Swann over wide long-on for six.
That Amla went to his hundred, off 210 balls and containing 10 fours, with a sweetly timed clip off his legs emphasised the full range of his strokeplay, but he was powerless to prevent a delivery from Anderson which shot along the ground uprooting his off stump.
That was the cue for Morkel to smash four fours in an over off Broad, yet it was with the ball that he made an even more important contribution, removing Strauss with a brute of a delivery which climbed steeply to take the outside edge.