Smith century pushes England to the wall
Close South Africa 291 (Kallis 108, Anderson 5-63) and 312 for 2 (Smith 162*, Kallis 20*) lead England 273 (Prior 76, Morkel 5-75) by 330 runs
Live scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Graeme Smith loves nothing better than to grind England into the dust, and on the hottest day of the tour so far, he produced an innings of intensity and drive to set up the prospect of a series-squaring victory in the third Test at Newlands. By the close he was still powering along, unbeaten on 162 from 243 balls, as South Africa amassed a hefty second-innings total of 312 for 2, and an overall lead of 330. With two days remaining and the weather set fair, England will require a similar show of mental and technical strength to avoid slumping to their fourth defeat in four post-Apartheid visits to Cape Town.
In the course of his epic innings, and as a measure of his importance to his country, Smith became only the second Test captain after Allan Border to amass 6000 Test runs. Famously, more than 600 of those came in his first two appearances against England back in 2003, while his unbeaten 154 at Edgbaston five years later almost singlehandedly secured South Africa their first series win in the country since readmission. The message for England is clear: without mastering Smith, they cannot expect to master South Africa, and given the humiliation his team suffered in Durban last week, his resolve in this contest has been heightened all the more.
Following the now-habitual early loss of Ashwell Prince, whom Graeme Swann dismissed for the third time in five balls this series, the bulk of Smith's work came in a 54-over stand with Hashim Amla that spanned the entire afternoon session and realised 230 runs, a record for the second wicket at Newlands. Unusually it was Amla who set the initial pace, as he carved 12 fours before tea, most of them through point and third man as England's seamers served up too much width, but after the break Smith really began to cut loose, as he sensed the flagging morale of his opponents, and recognised an opportunity to cash in.
Up until that point, he had saved his most aggressive tendencies for Swann, whom he looked to work against the spin and through midwicket at every opportunity, but in the final session he hurtled from 65 to 162 in a matter of 117 balls. James Anderson was pulled off a good length before being driven straight in a classic double-whammy, and he added another cut through backward point in his next over before drilling a low full-toss from Graham Onions through midwicket to bring up his 19th Test century from 170 balls, and his fifth in 17 Tests against England.
With that milestone under his belt, there was no looking back. Andrew Strauss moved entirely onto the defensive, packing the offside field and urging his bowlers to aim two feet outside the stumps, but Smith carried on chasing every hint of width, picking the gap in the covers and extending his mastery over the match situation. Jonathan Trott's exploratory swingers were rifled out of the attack to the tune of six fours in three overs, including four in five balls to end his work for the day, while Stuart Broad, who cut a grumpy figure all day, was slapped with impunity through point time and again, as Smith hurtled past 150 for the fourth time against England.
As if England's problems weren't already mounting, Broad also attracted the scrutiny of the umpires when he was seen in one incident to tread on the ball with his spikes as it rolled back along the pitch towards him. If it was an attempt to scuff up one side of the ball, it was spectacularly unsuccessful. Though England did locate some reverse swing as the afternoon wore on, they were unable to utilise it to any sort of advantage. "All he did was stand on the ball," said a terse England coach, Andy Flower, after the close.
Only one bowler could be relied upon to cause Smith any problems, and even then he wasn't able to cut the flow of runs. Swann might have dismissed Smith three times in his first over alone, via an lbw appeal, an edge short of slip, and a top-edged sweep that looped into no-man's land, but his biggest and most significant let-off was to come. On 51, Swann straightened a delivery on middle stump that was initially adjudged lbw, but Smith rightly suspected that the ball was bouncing too much. Sure enough, the replays showed it would have skimmed over the top of off stump, and so his vigil went on.
Instead, Swann had to make do with the scalps of Prince, who survived a bizarre referral for caught-behind on 5 but then wasted one 10 runs later after being pinned plumb lbw, and Amla, who would have richly deserved his second century of the series, but was never quite able to restart his innings after reaching tea on 73 not out. He was becalmed on 91 for 13 deliveries before drilling a drive through the covers to move to 95, but in the same Swann over, he propped half-forward, and bobbled a low bat-pad chance to Alastair Cook at short leg.
At 261 for 2, however, damage limitation was the only thing on England's mind, and Jacques Kallis, the first-innings centurion, was in no mood to allow any further wickets to fall. He accompanied Smith for 14.2 overs in a half-century stand before the close, to reach stumps on 20 not out.
Still, if England could take any vague cause for optimism from the day's events, it came courtesy of Matt Prior, who had carried the attack back to South Africa with a hard-hitting 76 in the morning session, after Morne Morkel had secured his five-wicket haul with back-to-back breakthroughs in his first over of the day, dismissing Swann without addition to his overnight 5 courtesy of a fourth-ball lifter that took the glove, before Anderson was handed the second duck of his Test career as Smith at first slip claimed another regulation edge.
But with the No. 11 Onions for company, Prior demonstrated the reliability of the pace and bounce to whittle to overnight deficit down from 50 to 18. By the end of the day, such feats were small beer, but nevertheless, the rewards for confident batting are there to be had. And England will need to play with plenty confidence in the coming two days.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo