Amla class and Smith clout stand out

England 385 South Africa 403-2 (SA lead by 18 runs with 8 wkts left): England's celebrated bowling attack left in tatters as South African pair turn the First Test on its head

The oval

Long before Graeme Smith played against England he answered to the nickname Biff. The reason appears to have been lost in the mists of time, but had it never been coined it would have been swiftly applied. It fits perfectly. From virtually the start of his Test career, Biff has spent most of his time biffing these opponents on behalf of South Africa. On the evidence of this brilliantly hard-nosed performance he is not yet of a mind to relent.

In his 100th Test, Smith made his 25th hundred, his seventh against England, his fifth in this country and now has a Test average here of 75.87. It is Bradmanesque, and indeed only Don Bradman himself has a higher one.

Everything that Smith did yesterday had in mind the objective of making South Africa the No 1 Test side in the world, the prize that awaits the winners of this series. And by the close of the third day in the First Test that fiercely held ambition was a little step closer.

Smith and his side were remorseless. They lost only one wicket throughout 98 overs. To general astonishment it was that of Smith but at 403 for 2, 18 ahead, they are not in imminent danger of defeat. Hashim Amla, with whom Smith shared a second-wicket partnership of 259, was unbeaten on 183 and Jacques Kallis had progressed seamlessly to 82 in an unbroken third-wicket stand of 143.

Smith's innings was the cornerstone. It was a contradictory model of calculating self-denial and brutal assault, and if it was never remotely pretty its effectiveness was immense. "I don't think it's sunk in yet," he said. "It's surreal, a lot of thoughts and emotions were going through my head. A hundred Tests is a terrific achievement, but to reach a milestone like this is the cherry on the top."

His alliance with Amla was South Africa's most productive at a ground where they have never won. The two innings were starkly contrasting, Smith, muscular and ferocious in attack, thumped the ball, Amla, lithe and graceful, caressed it. But in composure and determination they were equals. They had a plan to which they stuck and the upshot was domination. Smith fell to Tim Bresnan, bowled via an inside edge, pad and boot. Unless there are a few more where that came from it may not be enough to save Bresnan. The clamour for the Middlesex fast bowler Steve Finn to replace him will only become louder and will reach deafening proportions if England go 1-0 down in the series with two to play.

South Africa may have to bat so deep into the fourth day to establish a large enough lead that England will have to occupy the crease for only four sessions. Given their status as the world's top Test side, the desire to keep it and the benign, slow nature of the pitch this should be well within their compass. But batting for survival can have a dangerous effect.

There was nothing in the pitch or the overhead conditions for England's bowlers, but still this was a dreadful advertisement for them as the most incisive attack on the planet. Since Tino Best came out to bat at Edgbaston last month with West Indies at 283 for 9, England have taken three wickets while their opponents have scored 546.

Smith, as ever, was unafraid to fetch the ball from outside off and 97 of his runs were scored on the leg side. When he is set it makes him difficult to bowl to. Amla batted outside off stump to Graeme Swann's off-spin, making a leg-before verdict highly unlikely, and though his runs were evenly spread, he never missed a chance to clip into the on side.

There was a period in the enthralling first hour when Swann seemed to be eroding Smith's will, but it never came to fruition. It rarely does. There were a few hesitant nudges and prods and an lbw appeal was turned down which would have stood if given and then reviewed.

But Biff was completely unbothered. He did not care a jot about the scoring of runs. Amla was barely less inert and together they were intent on drawing England's sting. Eventually, Smith reached his fifty. It had taken 160 balls; to call it laborious would be to invest it with an entertainment value it did not possess.

And then dramatically he changed his approach. In the next 41 balls before lunch he had his century, crushing 10 fours, most of them through midwicket. In that period he was unstoppable.

He is the seventh player to have scored a hundred in his 100th Test match and if he does not set the pulse racing like some of the others – Colin Cowdrey, Javed Miandad, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Ricky Ponting – his interventions in Test matches are invariably meaningful. South Africa have never lost a Test match in which he has scored a century and have won 16 of them.

Tomorrow night Smith will fly home for a few days to be with his wife, the Irish singer Morgan Deane, for the birth of their first child. "She has been very supportive and I hope everything will go smoothly," Smith added. It will be a life-changing event, of course, but England should not bank on it weakening his resolve. Not one bit.

The Oval scoreboard

England won toss

England: First innings 385 (A N Cook 115, I J L Trott 71, M J Prior 60; M Morkel 4-72)

South Africa: First innings (Overnight: 86-1)

Runs/6s/4s/Bls

*G C Smith b Bresnan 131/0/20/273

A N Petersen lbw Anderson 0/0/0/8

H M Amla not out 183/22/0/369

J H Kallis not out 82/10/0/161

Extras (b1, lb4, w1, nb1) 7

Total (for 2, 135 overs) 403

Fall 1-1, 2-260.

To bat †A B de Villiers, J A Rudolph, V D Philander, D W Steyn, M Morkel, Imran Tahir.

Bowling Anderson 29-6-90-1; Broad 26-4-87-0; Swann 42-10-99-0; Bresnan 24-2-77-1; Bopara 9-1-29-0; Pietersen 3-0-13-0; Trott 2-0-3-0.

Umpires Asad Rauf (Pak) and S J Davies (Aus).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention