Amla double-century leads SA's charge
The double-century continued to elude Jacques Kallis but not Hashim Amla, who accumulated his way to the highest Test score by a South African in India. He also provided solidity from the other end as AB de Villiers played havoc with the spinners' lengths during a 108-run partnership that followed the 340-run stand between Kallis and Amla, the fifth-highest association in India. On a pitch behaving like it was a fourth-day track, it seemed a formidable total.
Amla's was an incredibly disciplined effort. He didn't hit anything in the air. Once Kallis was done with his onslaught on the first day, there were no periods of quiet or a loud burst from Amla, still managing a 50-plus strike-rate. Today he scored 55, 45 and 38 in the three sessions, a third of which featured 25 minutes fewer, and never frustrated the other batsmen by hogging the strike. He faced 473 deliveries and the batsmen after him got 556 in all. It needed all the discipline from Amla because the pitch offered Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra ample assistance.
Which is what will disappoint India more than the score. Mishra bowled 53 overs for no wicket - only five Indian spinners have managed worse. Harbhajan managed just one maiden in 46 overs, which rightly suggested there was not enough pressure created on a helpful pitch.
Wicket-taking opportunities were in short supply, and half of them not taken. When Mishra beat the bat, he beat it by six inches and upwards, the wrong'un was underused, when he had Kallis plumb the umpire didn't trust the slider to hold its line, and when de Villiers played around with his length, Mishra bowled long hops.
Harbhajan had to deal with batsmen moving back and across outside off, negating the lbw, closing the bat-pad gap, and working him around for singles. When he went round the stumps and created opportunities, M Vijay and MS Dhoni dropped Amla in one over when on 149.
The Kallis lbw miss didn't hurt India much. In the next over Harbhajan got him to bat-pad one, something that had looked inevitable on the second morning, the 11th time that Kallis had started on 100-plus overnight but failed to go onto 200. The double-century seemed to be on his mind as he looked comfortable in the middle, but wasn't in a run-scoring mode. His first run came in the ninth over of the day and he added only 14 off 61 deliveries. Had Kallis been scoring quickly, he wouldn't have had a slip, a forward short leg and a leg slip waiting.
Amla didn't have those problems, though. He got the testing Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma out of his face by hitting three boundaries in two overs: two pulls and one off-drive. The third of the boundaries took him into the 140s when his first testing moment came.
Free runs were not on offer while the ball was turning, and Amla managed only six in the first six overs of spin. Then he tried to step out to Harbhajan - bowling round the stumps - was beaten by the dip, got an inside edge that Vijay dropped at forward short leg. The next delivery he looked to glance, but the big spin took the edge that Dhoni failed to catch down the leg side. His 150 reached, Amla was solid again.
Amla could continue playing his natural game, taking singles and punishing the loose deliveries, because de Villiers came out full of intent. He played almost every other delivery about four yards down the wicket. Before India knew, Mishra had dragged a few deliveries short because of the jumping around, had been pulled for three boundaries down the ground, de Villiers had reached 33 off 52, and Amla was in the 180s.
Amla then pulled out the reverse-sweep against Harbhajan. In the 190s, signs of anxiety were there. He followed an offbreak into his pads, and hit it between keeper and leg slip. Then he spent eight deliveries on 199, but he came down the track and played a lovely cover-drive against Virender Sehwag to bring up the milestone.
That cover-drive, having stepped out to the bowler, was the standout shot of an innings that was so remarkably even you'd be struggle to pick a favourite area or favourite shot in. With de Villiers and JP Duminy falling in relative succession, Amla still stayed solid.
South Africa's lack of intent suggested they wanted to bat till stumps, declare overnight, and start bowling in the morning session, the toughest to bat in. About 40 minutes before close of play, though, Mark Boucher and Amla got a message, they looked to up the rate, but Boucher fell to a slower ball. It always seemed a sudden change of plan to have a go for 15 minutes before stumps, and the declaration came with 25 minutes to go and Amla 24 short of the highest score by a South African.
Going by how India comfortably raced to 25 for 0 in the four overs possible, South Africa would have wished they had taken those 25 minutes and got the score to as close to 600 as possible.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo