Awesome Amla puts Proteas in command
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England faced a huge battle to save the first Investec Test after Hashim Amla’s record-breaking unbeaten 311 propelled South Africa into a position of dominance at the Kia Oval.
The Proteas declared at tea on day four, having sauntered to 637 for two and a first-innings lead of 252 on the back of Amla’s sensational triple hundred - the first by a South African in the premier form of the game.
Jacques Kallis contributed 182 not out to an unbroken partnership of 377, which represented another record; the previous biggest third-wicket stand in this country had been 370 between Bill Edrich and Denis Compton for England against South Africa at Lord’s in 1947.
After toiling away for just one wicket across six sessions, England found life just as tough with the bat in the evening and closed on 102 for four, still trailing by 150, with Ian Bell and Ravi Bopara at the crease.
Amla had been reprieved in the closing stages of day two when a leaping Andrew Strauss put down a tough one-handed chance at slip off Bopara.
To say that proved costly would be an understatement as the 29-year-old went on to bat for 13 hours and nine minutes in a stunning display of skill, discipline and stamina.
His epic 529-ball innings featured countless examples of glorious timing and saw him replace team-mate AB de Villiers, who hit 278 against Pakistan in 2010 - as the holder of his country’s highest five-day score.
As the day wore on, both Amla and Kallis demonstrated a continued thirst for runs on a docile surface; in truth, it always looked as though de Villiers – South Africa’s number five - may not be required to bat, and so it proved.
Amla upped the tempo upon reaching 200 – his next hundred came from just 123 deliveries – while Kallis grew more dominant and powerful as the day wore on, striking 23 fours and one six in a chanceless 326-ball knock.
The former did offer a half-chance to Bell at cover in moving to his triple century and Bopara put down a sharp return catch soon after, but by that stage a tiring bowling attack was being treated with disdain.
Batting did not appear nearly so easy following South Africa’s declaration, which came sooner than many had expected.
First-innings centurion Alastair Cook was caught behind without scoring in Vernon Philander’s first over and Jonathan Trott fell in similar fashion for 10 when Dale Steyn got one to shape away off a length.
After being pegged back by a succession of short balls, Kevin Pietersen then played inside a straight one from Morne Morkel to be bowled.
South Africa struck again before stumps as Strauss top-edged a sweep off Imran Tahir to Philander at backward square-leg and, although Bell and Bopara survived the remainder of the day, England’s position appeared perilous in the extreme.
6:55pm - STUMPS – Eng 102/4; Bell 14, Bopara 15 - The end of a thoroughly difficult day for England, who trail by 150 and require a titanic effort tomorrow. The tourists’ attack impressed this evening, but today was all about Hashim Amla, who became the first South African to strike a triple century.
6:46pm - Tahir has plenty of men around the bat, but Bopara picks up four through midwicket as the spinner drops short. Philander, meanwhile, is maintaining a probing line from the Pavilion End.
6:38pm - Less than 20 minutes of play remaining in the day and there is a nervous silence around the ground at present. Everyone here knows just how crucial it is for England to avoid the loss of another batsman. No further alarms as yet.
6:26pm - There is quite a bit of excitement among the South African journalists in the press box, with Ernie Els having just claimed his third Open victory in dramatic circumstances at Royal Lytham and St Annes. Not that we are short of drama here, mind you! Bell and Bopara are digging in and keeping risks to a minimum.
6:16pm - Ravi Bopara gets off a pair with a pulled four off Steyn. England need one hell of a partnership now.
6:08pm – WICKET! Strauss c Philander b Tahir 27; Eng 67/4 - Tahir comes round the wicket to Strauss and gets some alarming bounce outside off stump. England’s captain opts to sweep and top-edges to Philander at backward square-leg. South Africa are jubilant.
6:02pm - Only eight runs have been added since Pietersen’s departure more than half an hour ago, but that doesn’t matter right now. It’s all about survival at present as drinks are taken for the final time today.
5:54pm - Bell plays and misses aiming a lavish drive outside off stump against Steyn. I’m not sure that is the sort of shot England require just now as they battle to save this match.
5:46pm - Steyn has switched to the Pavilion End. Strauss survives another over from the seamer, who is coming in like a train, and is unbeaten on 27 from 69 balls.
5:38pm - Ian Bell is now alongside Strauss and it is fair to say the hosts have a mountain to climb. South Africa’s attack are fired up, as you would expect, and are scenting further breakthroughs.
5:27pm - WICKET! Pietersen b Morkel 16; Eng 57/3 - Goodness me, Pietersen plays inside the line of a straight ball from Morkel and is comprehensively bowled. A frankly bizarre dismissal; that did not seem to do much.
5:26pm - Hashim Amla is off the field right now – I presume he is having a nap somewhere, having batted for over 13 hours across three days. England are 57 for two and 195 behind.
5:21pm – DROPPED CATCH - Pietersen pulls to the boundary once again, but then hangs the bat out to a short one from Morkel and provides a chance to Jacques Kallis’ right. The veteran usually swallows those, but he puts this one down! Pietersen was dropped in the slips in the 2005 Ashes Test at this venue and we all know what happened then...
5:15pm - Pietersen takes on another short ball from Morkel and top-edges this one over the keeper. Leg-spinner Imran Tahir is on from the Vauxhall End and starts with a low full toss, which Strauss plants down the ground for four.
5:09pm - Strauss chases a pigeon away after the bird had opted to place itself at silly mid-off for Steyn, who is operating from round the wicket to the left-hander. Pietersen then produces a thunderous pulled four off Morkel.
4:56pm - Kevin Pietersen is the new batsman and you feel England cannot really afford to lose another wicket in the next hour.
4:51pm – WICKET! Trott c de Villiers b Steyn 10; Eng 32/2 - Steyn is on the money this time! He gets one to move away from Trott, who feels for the ball outside the off stump and edges through to the wicketkeeper. England are in big trouble here.
4:45pm - Steyn has not found his radar yet; a loose delivery from the paceman is stroked through the covers by Trott, who is on to nine. We still have 34 overs to squeeze in this evening.
4:37pm - Things have just calmed down a little and both Strauss and Trott are settling down nicely. If they can see off the new ball, there really should not be too much in this surface to concern the batsmen.
4:27pm - Steyn is into the attack from the Vauxhall End after just four overs, but his first over yields seven runs, including a leg-side four to Strauss.
4:21pm - Batting looked much easier than this an hour ago; Philander finds Strauss’ edge but the ball squirts along the ground to backward point. England’s captain collects four leg byes later in the over to take the score into double figures.
4:15pm - Dale Steyn is being held back again, but Philander and Morne Morkel are doing just fine with the new ball. The latter sees an lbw appeal turned down against Jonathan Trott, who gets off the mark from the next delivery with two into the leg side.
4:08pm – WICKET! Cook c de Villiers b Philander 0; Eng 2/1 - Oh dear, oh dear – this is not what was needed. Vernon Philander angles one across Cook and the left-hander nicks off to give South Africa a breakthrough in the second over.
4:01pm - Andrew Strauss and first-innings centurion Alastair Cook stride out to the middle. The sun is still shining, the pitch remains relatively lifeless and England require a big performance from their opening pair.
3:50pm - South Africa have declared, so England will be batting after tea. They cannot afford to make a poor start.
3:41pm - TEA – SA 637/2; Amla 311, Kallis 182 - Anderson receives approval from the crowd following an excellent piece of fielding on the boundary, where most of the fielders are now scattered. Amla and Kallis now boast the highest third-wicket partnership in this country and tea is taken with the Proteas 252 ahead.
3:32pm - England look ragged now and a ropey delivery from Jonathan Trott beats Matt Prior before running away for four byes. Bopara is beating the bat with regularity, but that is chiefly down to the ultra-aggressive approach being adopted by the batsmen. The declaration cannot come soon enough.
3:22pm – TRIPLE CENTURY!!! Amla (515b 35x4 0x6) - Amla becomes the first South African to compile a triple hundred in Tests and I must confess I am running out of superlatives for this knock. A simply astounding performance. That said, he was almost denied the landmark - the shot that took him past 300 off Bresnan only just cleared the fielder at extra-cover. Kallis is now swinging wildly at the other end.
3:16pm - The slog is on now; Kallis drags Bresnan disdainfully through midwicket but is unable to cleanly connect with a wild swipe against Ravi Bopara.
3:05pm - A momentary burst of excitement as Bresnan raps Amla on the pad. Big appeal from the bowler, but that struck South Africa’s new record-holder outside the line. Kallis then heaves Swann over midwicket for the first maximum of the innings. There may be a few more to come...
2:56pm – 150! Kallis (299b 20x4 0x6) - The landmarks keep on coming for the tourists. Kallis, who has still yet to be troubled in this innings, moves to 150 with a leg-side single off Graeme Swann. You have to feel a little sorry for Alviro Petersen; he made nought and has then had to watch all of his fellow top-order batsmen cash in.
2:45pm - South Africa lead by 189 as drinks are taken. I wonder how many they want here? We have yet to see a dramatic rise in the scoring rate, which suggests a declaration will not be coming any time soon.
2:38pm - TRIPLE CENTURY PARTNERSHIP - What a moment this is for Amla – no South African has ever made more than he has in this match. He moves past AB de Villiers’ record of 278 with a clip through midwicket for four off Tim Bresnan and will now be after a triple hundred. The stand is now worth more than 300 and England will be hurting.
2:32pm - A few milestones are looming. Amla is poised to reach a record score for a South African in Tests, the partnership is nearing 300 and Kallis is eight shy of 150.
2:18pm - Still no sign of a wicket I’m afraid. Anderson has been the pick of England’s attack today and deserves credit for his persistence, but Amla and Kallis will not be shifted. They have now shared 285 for the third wicket.
2:03pm - Cheers ring around the Kia Oval as Amla plays and misses outside off against Anderson. Nice to see the crowd haven’t lost their enthusiasm, or sense of humour!
1:56pm - Hashim Amla lofts Anderson past midwicket to surpass his previous highest Test score. He looks as though he has plenty more in the tank.
1:51pm - The third new ball has been taken and James Anderson has first use of it. A quiet over from him, but Jacques Kallis then drills Stuart Broad through the covers on three occasions.
1:40pm - The currant bun continues to beat down on here as the players re-emerge. Can England finally enjoy some success with the ball?
1:01pm – LUNCH – SA 514/2; Amla 251, Kallis 125 - The end of another session and once again England have been unable to pick up a wicket; they now trail by 129. Amla takes lunch just two shy of his personal best and I imagine there will be plenty of attacking strokeplay when play resumes at 1:40pm.
12:57pm – 250!!! Amla (445b 29x4 0x6) - Amla reaches his latest notable milestone and his fifth fifty spanned just 53 deliveries, a sign of South Africa’s increasingly positive approach.
12:53pm - Another attacking stroke from Kallis against Bopara; this time a thick outside edge flies past the solitary slip for four. A thrash through the covers from the same batsman takes South Africa past 500 and the next couple of hours could be painful in the extreme for England.
12:41pm - Kallis aims a booming drive at Bopara, but fails to connect. There has certainly been much more positive intent in the last 20 minutes or so and the lead now stands at 100.
12:32pm - Amla has decided it is time to raise the tempo. He dances down the track to Swann and almost clears the rope at deep midwicket, before driving Ravi Bopara behind square for his 27th four. He now has 230 and may have one eye on the highest Test score by a South African. His team-mate AB de Villiers currently holds that record with 278 not out.
12:23pm - CENTURY! Kallis (227b 13x4 0x6) - The second most prolific century-maker in Test cricket now has his 43rd five-day hundred. Kallis reaches the milestone by guiding Bresnan down to third man and removes his helmet before pointing to his eye, a tribute to his close friend and former team-mate Mark Boucher, who has sadly been forced to retire from international cricket.
12:19pm – Swann is belatedly brought into the attack from the Vauxhall End and serves up a half-volley that Amla dispatches to the cover boundary. That must be at least a dozen fours through that region for him now, maybe more.
12:13pm - Still no sign of Graeme Swann, which is something of a surprise on a pitch offering a little help to the spinners. Hang on, there was almost a wicket there. Ian Bell manages a direct hit from cover after Amla had called for a quick single, but Kallis is safely home.
12:01pm - Drinks are taken with the Proteas on 439 for two. That was a very quiet opening hour, although Kallis did finally break out of his shell with a classy cover-driven four off Bresnan.
11:52am - Still pretty quiet out there. Kallis has been extremely passive so far, adding just eight to his overnight score. South Africa’s lead currently stands at 48 and the sun continues to shine brightly – it really is a glorious scene.
11:40am - DOUBLE CENTURY!! Amla (392b 23x4 0x6) - Take a bow Hashim Amla. The tenacious 29-year-old drives Broad into the covers for three to move past 200. After offering a difficult chance to Andrew Strauss on the second evening, he has barely played a false stroke in a stunning innings now approaching 10 hours.
11:35am - South Africa are certainly in no rush just yet and, as much as they would love a wicket, England will not be too unhappy at how things have gone this morning. Just 21 runs added so far in nine overs. Here comes Stuart Broad in place of Bresnan.
11:23am - That was a tired shot from Amla; he didn’t move his feet at all and was fortunate not to play on as he got an inside edge to a length delivery. The number three now has the highest score by a South African at the Kia Oval, surpassing Bruce Mitchell’s unbeaten 189 here in 1947.
11:15am - Bresnan strays down the leg side and is clipped fine by Hashim Amla, who moves to 191. He has one previous double hundred to his name, having struck an unbeaten 253 against India at Nagpur in February 2010.
11:08am - Tim Bresnan, the only wicket-taker on day three, opens up from the Vauxhall End and gets one to bounce sharply as Kallis leaves outside off. The Proteas will not be unhappy to see a few deliveries misbehaving today.
11:03am - Jacques Kallis, who cruised to 82 yesterday, takes strike to James Anderson and plays out a maiden. I expect South Africa will just bat normally until lunch as they look to keep wickets in hand. We may seem some pretty rapid acceleration after that.
10:55am - Wickets are key for England as they look to keep South Africa in check. A couple of early breakthroughs would be most welcome this morning, especially after only one batsman departed yesterday.
10:45am - With the sun shining and a slow pitch offering little help to the bowlers, the Proteas will be aiming to build a significant lead today before a possible declaration in the evening. The next batsman in is AB de Villiers and he can certainly up the ante if quick runs are required.
10:35am - The tourists will resume on 403 for two, leading by 18, with Hashim Amla on 183 and Jacques Kallis 18 short of a century. England bowling coach David Saker refused to be critical of his bowlers’ efforts on day three and you can read his thoughts here, together with those of South Africa captain Graeme Smith, a centurion in his 100th Test appearance.
10:30am - Morning everyone! Summer has arrived at last; we have a beautiful sunny day in the capital and day four of the first Investec Test is not far away. South Africa assumed control yesterday with a terrific batting performance and I am afraid to say things may get worse before they get better for England today.