Saker expects riposte from bowlers
Bowling coach David Saker gave his backing to England’s attack after they endured a day of frustration in the first Investec Test against South Africa.
The hosts were only able to make one breakthrough on day three at the Kia Oval as Graeme Smith’s men moved from 86 for one to 403 for two and a lead of 18.
Hashim Amla’s unbeaten 183 represented the most impressive batting performance, while skipper Smith registered 131 in his 100th Test and Jacques Kallis looked untroubled in adding 82 not out prior to stumps.
South Africa are now in position to secure a huge first-innings lead, but Saker refused to be critical of a bowling unit that has served England so well in recent years.
“I wouldn't have said it was bad bowling. I thought it was a very flat wicket, and our guys toiled away very well,” said the Australian.
“It was extremely good batting from Smith and Amla in particular, and then Kallis put the icing on the cake at the end.
“We just couldn’t get the ball to move laterally, which is one of our big strengths.”
Saker conceded he had not experienced a more difficult day since taking on his current role in early 2010.
“I’ve been quite fortunate in my job since I’ve been here that we haven’t had days like this very often,” he added.
“It was a tough day watching, but I was pretty proud of the way they just kept running in. They did pretty much everything we asked them to do, but we just couldn’t get that ball to move - and the batting was exceptional, and the wicket tough work.
“We haven’t been in this situation very often in recent times. It’ll test them tomorrow; let’s see how they turn out.”
England are now facing the likelihood of having to bat long to save the game, but Saker is not expecting a docile surface to deteriorate significantly on days four and five.
“I don’t think it will - because I would have thought it would have started to show signs of that today, and it didn’t seem to do that,” he reasoned.
“I think it will be okay on day five, to bat on.”
An ecstatic Smith was able to reflect on a special day, which saw him follow in the footsteps of Colin Cowdrey, Javed Miandad, Gordon Greenidge, Alec Stewart, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Ricky Ponting by reaching three figures in his 100th five-day appearance.
“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet. It was quite surreal at the time and then you still have in the back of your mind that there’s a job to be done,” said South Africa’s captain, who will fly home after this match to witness the birth of his first child.
“I guess in the next day or two it will sink in. Firstly, to have played 100 Tests is a terrific achievement, but to reach a milestone like this is the cherry on the top - it feels great.
“It’s so difficult to put into words; when I got to a hundred there were so many emotions that were flowing through me – from that to knowing my wife is giving birth in three days’ time. All of those things were coming through; it’s sort of a blank moment in my mind.”
Smith, who has now scored seven hundreds against England and five on these shores, paid tribute to the efforts of Amla, who has so far spent nine hours and nine minutes at the crease.
“He doesn’t complicate it too much. He scores freely all round the wicket and to stand out there and watch some of his timing is quite incredible,” said Smith.
“He’s obviously got great ability, but with that he’s got terrific mental strength and a calmness that I think adds to all of that. He’s a nice guy to have in your team.”
The opener also believes his side’s serene progress with the bat highlighted how well his bowlers had performed to restrict England to a first-innings score of 385.
“We had some good conditions yesterday morning to bowl, but we executed everything well and we were able to keep England under pressure,” Smith added.
“The way we bounced back yesterday with the ball has been probably the biggest achievement of this Test match so far.
“Tomorrow is a fresh day and we need to respect our opponents. They have the ability to bounce back; they are the number one team in the world and we need to respect that, but we are positive and we do want to have the chance to push for a victory.
“If we give ourselves a chance to bowl out England then I believe we’ve got the armoury to do that, certainly.”