Amla and Smith produce epic hundreds
South Africa 403 for 2 (Amla 183*, Kallis 82*) lead England 385 by 18 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Graeme Smith wrote himself another place in the history books with a century in his 100th Test and Hashim Amla batted throughout the third day to finish unbeaten on 183 as England were subjected to 98 overs of toil at The Oval.
Smith and Amla added 259, a South Africa record for the second wicket against England, before Jacques Kallis consolidated their work to leave him within sight of being the third century-marker in the top four. South Africa finished on 403 for 2, a lead of 18, and this has turned into a match-saving scenario for the home side.
Amla's hundred 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.
He has come a long way from the callow batsman England first encountered on the 2004-05 tour of South Africa, who became a regular target of short deliveries. That was a tactic only occasionally used on this occasion, partly because the pitch was so slow as to negate the effectiveness of the bouncer. There was barely a false shot in Amla's innings - a play-and-miss became a notable moment - as he moved past 150, by far his highest score against England.
Amla played particularly impressively against Swann, who had been expected to be England's key weapon on a dry surface. He was often happy to sit on the back foot and pick him off through the leg side, but occasionally unfurled a glorious cover drive to show his all-round game. He will have visions of passing his career best of 253; a triple hundred is not beyond the realms.
Smith had became the seventh batsman to have raised three figures in appearances and with the bat on the same occasion, joining a list that read Colin Cowdrey, Javed Miandad, Gordon Greenidge, Alec Stewart, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Ricky Ponting. Smith reached his landmark when he struck consecutive boundaries off Tim 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 was 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. He was finally dislodged by Bresnan, who squeezed a ball through his defences, but it would prove their only success of the day.
Swann will bowl worse than this and take wickets. He had an absorbing contest with Smith, particularly in the first session as South Africa set their stall out for the long haul. Swann came close on more than one occasion, twice sliding deliveries through to beat Smith on the back foot, and also turning others past his outside edge with the aid of the footmarks. Now, however, it is England set to bat last in this match so a wearing pitch will concern them not South Africa.
Smith resisted the early pressure and when he connected with a strong sweep two balls after passing fifty it freed him up 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.
Broad was not at the top of his game 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, as they did before lunch, it is 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 did not find his usual hooping swing - although he did not bowl badly - and Broad's difficult innings continued when he was taken for three consecutive boundaries by Smith.
Although Bresnan dislodged Smith's bail in his first over back, that only resulted in the formidable figure of Kallis walking to the crease. He showed aggressive intent against Swann, launching him over midwicket, but barely broke sweat during a fifty that had felt inevitable from very early on despite his indifferent record in England. He brought up the team's 400 with his tenth boundary, an effortless cover drive, and by the close his stand with Amla was worth 143. South Africa have plenty of power to add, too.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo