England v South Africa, 1st Investec Test, 2nd day
Oval – Graeme Smith wrote himself another place in the history books with a century in his 100th Test and Hashim Amla joined him on three figures as the pair added 259 for the second wicket to put South Africa in a commanding position at The Oval. Tim Bresnan eventually broke through late in the second session, but it was a day of toil for the England bowlers.
Smith became the seventh batsman to have raised three figures in appearances and with the bat on the same occasion, joining a list that read Cowdrey, Miandad, Greenidge, Stewart, Inzamam and Ponting. Smith reached his landmark when he struck consecutive boundaries off Bresnan in the last over before lunch to reach his 25th hundred and his seventh against England.
South Africa have never lost when Smith has scored a century. It had been a masterclass in how to battle through tough periods after registering his slowest fifty in Test cricket, which took 160 balls - the next fifty runs needed just a further 41.
Amla's hundred, meanwhile, was a beautiful innings - his elegance in stark contrast to the cussedness and grit of Smith. He placed the ball into gaps with his subtle wrist work, driving England to distraction with his ability to manipulate the field. His century arrived from 199 balls with a glide to third man, followed by a calmer, slightly less emotional, celebration than his captain.
The finest, most compelling, contest of the morning came between Smith and Graeme Swann. It was an absorbing duel as Swann worked away from round the wicket to Smith trying to extract an outside edge or lbw against the left-hander. He came close on more than one occasion, twice sliding deliveries through to beat Smith on the back foot, and also turning deliveries past his outside edge with the aid of the footmarks.
Yet Smith resisted and when he connected with a strong sweep it seemed to release the pressure somewhat and indicated the increase in run-rate as South Africa earned the advantage of the early hard work. The first ball after the morning drinks break was an indication of where the balance of power was shifting as he drove Stuart Broad through the covers.
England's pace bowlers were forced to toil on an unresponsive surface. James Anderson was the best of them, probing away outside Smith's off stump during the first part of the day as England laid their stall out to play the waiting game. He drew a couple of false drives from Smith, but Amla was more secure and played a couple delightful off-side shots which threaded the gaps.
Broad was not quite at the top of his game and a five-over spell leaked 24 runs, although he did watch one leg-side flick from Smith fly past Kevin Pietersen who had been stationed at a close square-leg position. Ravi Bopara was given a bowl ahead of Bresnan as Andrew Strauss went through his options and hoped that the ball would start to reverse swing. It moved a little but when the bowlers start trying to force a ball change it's a sign that things are not going well.
England went into a holding pattern as they waited for the second new ball; Swann was left as there only real wicket-taking threat as the seamers generally bowled wide. In a sign of desperation they used up a review against Smith when Bresnan had an lbw appeal that always appeared to have pitched outside leg, but which Hot Spot showed had taken a thin edge to boot.
Having placed all their eggs in the new-ball basket it became the crunch moment for England but bowling against two batsmen with hundreds under their belts is a very different proposition to two on nought. Anderson has not found his usual hooping swing - although he has not bowled badly - and Broad's difficult innings continued when he was taken for three consecutive boundaries by Smith; two to third man and one to fine leg.
Eventually, though, in the eighth over of the new ball and Bresnan's first of a new spell he managed to squeeze one through Smith's defensive shot and the ball rolled back between his legs to dislodge the bail. However, walking in at No. 4 was a man with an average of nearly 57 and Jacques Kallis had a fantastic foundation to build on alongside the cruising Amla.