Intriguing challenge beckons for Biff
South Africa have put up one heck of a fight back at The Oval and are in a position to set up a very memorable Test match. Whether they have the guts to do so remains to be seen. ANT SIMS reports from The Oval.
Rumours of South Africa being undercooked have been greatly exaggerated. Helped by a placid pitch and a rather unremarkable effort from England’s bowlers, Graeme Smith to brought up his 25th hundred in his hundredth Test match as the Proteas batted England into the ground on day three at The Oval.
“I don’t think it has sunk in yet,” Smith said about the hundred, which is also his seventh against England. “It was surreal at the time; there were a lot of thoughts and emotions that went through my head when I reached the hundred, but at the back of my head I knew that there was still a job to be done.”
The visitors amassed 317 runs for the loss of just one wicket on day three. Hashim Amla batted out the day and ended unbeaten on 183, with Jacques Kallis steadying the ship and getting the English monkey off his back with a solid 82* at the other end.
“He (Amla) doesn’t complicate it too much, he plays really well within his strengths and scores freely all-round the wicket. To sit on the other end and watch some of his timing is quite incredible.
“He obviously has great ability, but with that, he has terrific mental strength and the calmness that adds to that. We all know that he has a big hunger to be successful and to do well, so he’s a nice guy to have in your team,” said Smith.
Play was tedious for most of the day, but the South Africans did well to erase the deficit, and now lead by 18 runs. What looked like a dead-set draw does, however, hold the possibility for becoming one of the most memorable Test matches in recent history, provided South Africa has the guts to challenge England. The game is set up for the visitors to prove that they came to England to win and that they will do so at any cost, but to do that Smith will have to challenge his – and world cricket’s – general conservatism.
Smith has been known to take games away from teams and be content with settling for a draw, rather than attempting to force a positive result. Back in November 2010, Smith set Pakistan 451 to win in 131 overs in the first of a three match series. But the game petered out into a stale draw just like it did in Cape Town in January 2010, when Smith set England 466 with 141 overs still remaining in the match. Batting conditions are certainly not easy at The Oval, but the visitors need to up the ante and attack right from the start on day four to accumulate enough runs in order to entice England to make them bat again, and they’ll have to back their bowlers to dismiss a juggernaut batting line-up in just under a day. The pitch is expected to start crumbling, as it has traditionally has, which will make batting on day five very difficult for England. The South African players will have to back themselves to capitalise on the potential mental disintegration infiltrating the England camp.
"We were under pressure on the first day, but I think we've turned that around and put the pressure on England, but there is still a lot of work to do in the game.
“The wicket was slow, but it was good. It’s not really a free flowing wicket; it’s a wicket where you need to be disciplined. It’s already drier than it was, and with the sun being out tomorrow, it will be even drier as time goes on,” the skipper said.
It could be a brave approach from the South African skipper, who said that there was no specific game plan set yet.
“The game still needs to unfold tomorrow, and we obviously want to win the Test, but we’ll have to make those decisions based on what happens tomorrow. We’ve fought back to put ourselves into a position where winning is possible, but there is a lot of cricket left to be played tomorrow,” said Smith.
How many runs South Africa will need to put themselves in a position to force a result remains to be seen, but a tea-time declaration is the best chance of a engineering a possible victory. It will be bold, it will be ballsy, and it’s highly unlikely, but it’s an intriguing test for Smith. If South Africa came to England to topple them from the number one ranking in their own backyard, they need to stamp their authority from the get-go and wipe out the poisoned chalice that is their record at the Oval. Whether Smith and company have the guts to do so will be one of the more interesting questions of the Test. DM
Photo: South Africa's Jacques Kallis (L) and Hashim Amla (2nd L) leave the field at the end of the third day of the first cricket test match against England at the Oval cricket ground in London July 21, 2012. REUTERS/Philip Brown