x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Amla century rocks England

The pendulum swings again in this riveting first Test between South Africa and England.

CENTURION // The pendulum swung again in this riveting first Test between South Africa and England. The visitors appeared to be in with a glorious chance of winning after they reduced South Africa to 46 for four early yesterday morning. But it was the hosts who now sense victory after Hashim Amla's hundred allowed them to declare on 301 for seven. South Africa's day got even better when the England skipper Andrew Strauss fell for just one off Morne Morkel late in the day with the visitors closing on 11 for one, 353 from victory.

Amla's innings and strong knocks from AB de Villiers (64) and Mark Boucher (63 not out) mean that England, minus their captain, need to bat all day today on a deteriorating wicket if they are to go to Durban all square. The visitors may believe they can save the game but there have been just two draws in 14 matches at SuperSport Park and South Africa have lost just once here, that infamous 2000 match where Hansie Cronje contrived a result.

England can at least be encouraged by the fact the wicket showed few demons bar the first hour of play with James Anderson and Graham Onions bowling a fine spell first up. They effectively used the new ball, which was just four overs old, and soon had the Proteas in trouble. Paul Harris fell in only the second over of the day, Anderson bowling the night-watchman behind his legs for 11. Onions got into the act, claiming the crucial wicket of Graeme Smith with an absolute peach. Smith could not deal with a sharp delivery that nipped back and got an inside-edge on to the stumps for his second failure of the game after a first-innings duck.

Things were to get worse for Smith's men as Jacques Kallis, so impressive in reaching a century on Wednesday, ended an ugly 45-minute stay by hooking Stuart Broad to Alastair Cook on the boundary for just four. England should have taken full advantage but Amla and de Villiers helped South Africa turn the tide, establishing a 142-run lead at lunch. The visitors' confusion with the referral system continued as Aleem Dar's decision to give Amla not out in the face of Graeme Swann's lbw appeal was upheld.

Amla hit Swann for six to compound the spinner's misery, with England's hero of the last three days unable to repeat his magic. Swann's overall figures read a disappointing nought for 91 off 27 overs. Onions and Broad also lost their discipline and were repeatedly punished by Amla and de Villiers, with the pitch not breaking up as expected. A frustrated England wasted their second referral of the innings, and fifth of the match, when Onions claimed to have trapped de Villiers lbw. But HawkEye ruled the delivery would only have clipped de Villiers' leg stump, not enough to overturn Steve Davis' decision.

Broad struck out of the blue, tempting de Villiers into a mistimed drive straight into the arms of Ian Bell at short extra-cover. It ended an attacking innings by de Villiers who scored 64 runs out of a 119-run partnership with Amla which seized the initiative. JP Duminy made 11 before Anderson got one to nip back and trap him lbw. Despite a referral, Duminy departed with a marginal decision going England's way this time.

A positive Boucher hit Swann over his head for six on his way to a half-century before Amla brought up a patient hundred with a well timed leg-side boundary. He was soon bowled by Anderson but Boucher and Morkel continued the acceleration, leading South Africa to a declaration. Smith declared safe in the knowledge that England will need to beat their record fourth innings total of 332 to win a match - achieved in Australia way back in 1928 - if they are to claim an unlikely victory.

But England's aim will surely be merely to save the game after Strauss nicked to Boucher, leaving the Proteas ecstatic. sports@thenational.ae