It was a long, hot day for England. It began badly and it grew worse. By its end there seemed plenty of scope for greater suffering to come. It was the day South Africa demonstrated that when they talked of their intention to do everything in their power to win the third Test and draw level in the series, they meant every word. It was the day that they were led from the front, as so often, by their inestimable captain, Graeme Smith and they compounded England's misery at its close by virtually accusing them of meddling with the ball.
Smith, a man who always puts his bat where his mouth is, scored his 19th hundred, his fifth against England, and every one of his 162 runs was designed to reinforce his status as one of the most unbending cricketers of his generation.
By the close of the third day, South Africa were 330 runs ahead with eight second-innings wickets left. Thanks to a dramatically changed surface which goes against all groundsmanship manuals ever published, and is improving with age as though it has had botox, their own sense of purpose and England's bowlers being rendered largely innocuous, South Africa changed the complexion of the match.
As if England did not have travails enough, they were spoken to by the umpires about the condition of the ball immediately after lunch and in turn South Africa raised their concerns with the match referee Roshan Mahanama straight after play though they have not yet made an official complaint. With the tourists' opponents on 312 for 2, whatever they were trying to do clearly did not have the desired effect. Or if it did, some more time at the drawing board may be required.
England won with a genuine flourish in Durban last week, having escaped from Centurion with a nail-biting draw. What is happening here in Cape Town probably confirms that there is almost nothing between these sides. Dominance one day does not mean pre-eminence the next.
Smith shared a partnership of 230 with Hashim Amla, the highest for the second wicket here. Amla was out five runs short of his second hundred of the series. There were chances; there was even an occasion when Smith was given out and another when he thought he was out, beat the ground in annoyance and set off for the pavilion.
He was reprieved first when his appeal against the lbw verdict awarded to Graeme Swann was overturned on review because replays showed the ball was narrowly going over the top. Then, the ball after Smith reached his hundred, Matt Prior immediately announced that the outside edge off Graham Onions had not carried.
But these were rare blemishes on one of those innings that was written in the stars. Smith has made a habit of ensuring that when things need doing for the team, he may as well do them himself.
With two days left to play, a win for one side or the other is still probable, though less certain than it appeared on the first two days. This is the Benjamin Button of cricket pitches. England may have no option but to try to bat out five sessions for a draw but South Africa, who need a win, may equally need to give the tourists some cause to hope that a successful run chase can be negotiated. But, after they were kept out on the hottest day of South Africa's summer, there is no question that the tourists will be at their most vulnerable.
The third day belonged almost entirely to South Africa from the first over. England, beginning at 50 runs behind with three wickets left, needed to avoid shedding early wickets. Instead they lost them to the fourth and fifth balls of Morne Morkel's opening over.
Swann could do nothing about a vicious lifter which homed in on his gloves and went to slip. Next ball Jimmy Anderson edged in the same direction. Only the selflessness of Prior, who played some superbly improvised attacking shots took England to within 18 runs of South Africa's total. Any suspicion that England would benefit from the early-morning Newlands nibble was swiftly allayed. True, Ashwell Prince was almost the victim of a dreadful decision when he was given out caught behind down the leg side. Although that was duly reversed, Prince went soon after, Swann's 27th lbw victim of the series, and the batsman's request for a review was the act of a desperate man who needed a stay of execution because he needs runs.
An hour after lunch, when it was clear that England already needed a break, Smith was nearly Swann's 28th lbw victim of the series. The naked eye and Hawk-Eye are often at variance. So it was again. Smith stayed in because the ball was missing according to Hawk-Eye. Not according to the naked eye. They are destined never to be reconciled. For the rest of the day Smith and Amla did as they wished.
Amla was the more aggressive, punching boundaries through point. Smith accumulated with certainty, with the scoring rate well above three an over. Smith accelerated and reached his hundred with his 12th four. He edged the next ball, thought he had been caught but escaped.
He proceeded to launch a ferocious assault, which was fed by tiring bowlers, and took only 47 balls to gather his third 50. Amla reached 80 in 113 balls but was then much more subdued, taking 39 to acquire his next 15 runs. He provided Swann with his 18th wicket of the series but this only brought in Jacques Kallis. South Africa have never lost a Test in which Smith has made a hundred. For England enough said.
Turning points: How the third day unfolded
10.32am: Two wickets in two balls
In the routinely dramatic start to the day, Graeme Swann receives a brutal lifter from Morne Morkel, which he does well to glove to slip. The following ball is edged, also to slip, by Jimmy Anderson.
11.01: Prior succumbs to end innings
England's innings ends with Matt Prior, having launched a selfless final salvo, chopping on.
11.26: Prince walks then wins reprieve
Ashwell Prince is given out caught behind down the leg side by Daryl Harper. It seems as if Harper only raised his finger as Prince was walking off, but the batsman, who must merely have been gathering his thoughts, immediately asks for a review. Replays show it missed the bat by inches: a truly dreadful verdict which makes the Decision Review System worthwhile.
11.58: Swann's near misses
Swann, delivering a first over typically full of incident, might have had Graeme Smith out thrice – lbw, twice caught at slip. Sadly for England close but no cigar.
1.09: Strauss quizzed about ball tampering
As the players walk out for the afternoon sessions the umpires have a word with the England captain about the state of the ball, which they seem to think might have been scuffed.
2.07: Smith escapes lbw decision
Smith is given out leg before wicket. It looks a good decision but the batsman asks for a review and the ball is shown to be going over the top. The decision, crucially, is reversed.
2.20: Helmet gives South Africa five
England concede five penalty runs when the ball strikes the helmet, having gone through Matt Prior's leg and been parried by Paul Collingwood.
3.30: Smith marches on, and on
Smith pummels Stuart Broad for four to reach his 150 as South Africa march on.
Cape Town scoreboard
Third Test: Cape Town (Third day of five); South Africa lead England by 330 runs with eight second-innings wickets remaining; England won toss
South Africa: First Innings 291 (Kallis 108, Boucher 51, Anderson 5-63)
England: First Innings Overnight: 241-7 (Cook 65)
†M J Prior b Steyn 76 118 balls 9 fours
G P Swann c Smith b Morkel 5 17 balls
J M Anderson c Morkel b Morkel 0 1 ball
G Onions not out 4 9 balls 1 four
Extras (lb 6, w 2, nb 1) 9
Total (88 overs) 273
Fall: 1-2 (Strauss), 2-36 (Trott), 3-36 (Pietersen), 4-73 (Collingwood), 5-133 (Cook), 6-174 (Bell), 7-225 (Broad), 8-241 (Swann), 9-241 (Anderson), 10-273 (Prior).
Bowling: Morkel 22-4-75-5 (w1) (4-0-11-1, 3-1-11-0, 4-1-9-1, 5-1-12-0, 6-1-32-2), De Wet 16-3-36-0 (nb1) (5-0-15-0, 2-0-4-0, 3-1-5-0, 3-2-8-0, 3-0-4-0), Steyn 22-5-74-4 (5-2-19-2, 5-3-8-0, 6-0-28-0, 6-0-19-2), Kallis 14-2-27-1 (w1) (3-1-4-0, 6-1-12-0, 3-0-6-1, 2-0-5-0), Harris 9-0-39-0 (6-0-24-0, 2-0-11-0, 1-0-4-0), Duminy 5-0-16-0 (1-0-2-0, 4-0-14-0).
South Africa: Second Innings
A G Prince lbw b Swann 15 44 balls 1 four
*G C Smith not out 162 243 balls 22 fours
H M Amla c Cook b Swann 95 156 balls 14 fours
J H Kallis not out 20 38 balls 3 fours
Extras (b 13, lb 6, nb 1) 20
Total (2 wkts, 80 overs) 312
Fall: 1-31 (Prince), 2-261 (Amla).
To bat: A B de Villiers, J P Duminy, †M V Boucher, M Morkel, P L Harris, D W Steyn, F L de Wet.
Bowling: Anderson 11-0-50-0 (5-0-8-0, 3-0-21-0, 3-0-21-0), Onions 13-3-51-0 (nb1) (4-1-13-0, 3-1-22-0, 3-0-9-0, 3-1-7-0), Swann 33-5-104-2 (15-2-46-1, 7-2-24-0, 11-1-34-1), Broad 15-3-52-0 (8-2-20-0, 3-0-17-0, 4-1-15-0), Pietersen 3-0-6-0 (one spell), Trott 5-0-30-0 (1-0-1-0, 4-0-29-0).
Progress Third day: 50: 13.5 overs, Lunch: 56-1 (Smith 22, Amla 14) 17.0 overs, 100: 30.2 overs, 150: 40.0 overs, Tea: 165-1 (Smith 65, Amla 73) 46.0 overs, 200: 52.3 overs, 250: 64.5 overs, 300: 75.0 overs, Close: 312-2 (Smith 162, Kallis 20) 80.0 overs. Smith: 50: 80 balls, 5 fours; 100: 171 balls, 12 fours; 150: 218 balls, 21 fours. Amla 50: 75 balls, 10 fours.
Umpires: D J Harper (Aus) & A L Hill (NZ).
TV replay umpire : Aleem Dar (Pak).
Match referee: M Erasmus.Reuse content