A late rally by Steven Finn gave England a smidgen of hope, but South Africa countered his spell by dismissing both English openers before the close of play on day four. The visitors need eight wickets to topple England from their perch at the top of the world rankings, and day five couldn’t have been set up any better. ANT SIMS reports from Lord’s.
Hashim Amla is a special player. There is something sentient about him and in the last year, he has established himself as one of the finest Test cricketers in the world. Amla makes scoring runs by the bucket load look effortless. What’s more, he is never quite content with the way he plays – he’s always trying to find a way to improve his game. His 300 at The Oval was magnificent, but he struggled somewhat at Headingley. Amla went back and worked on his game, and on Sunday at Lord’s he scored 100 more to add to his growing tally of runs – bringing his average for the series to 120 (just a little over his average for the last 12 months, which is sitting pretty at 65.56).
It wasn’t the prettiest 100 he’s ever scored, but it was gritty. And despite his technique being a bit scratchy, his ability to stay at the crease despite a few faults was testament to just how tough he can be. He’s not really one to celebrate, but on this occasion, he gestured a square – some thought it was Amla having a sense of humour, but it was just his way of showing the South African team analyst that the 100 was for him – a tribute to the effort he puts in behind the scenes.
"I just wanted to acknowledge Prasanna and all the hard work he puts in and all the work that I've done with him. He told me something really inspirational at the start of the Test, so I thought I'd acknowledge him. Ever since he's joined the team there has been quite a bit of work going on. We're all a work in progress,” Amla explained.
It was a fine gesture from a fine man, and it was perhaps only a late rally from Steven Finn which made for finer viewing on day four. Finn, who is so often made to play second fiddle to the likes of Tim Bresnan, managed to engineer one of his finest performances when he castled Amla just after lunch. Amla and AB de Villiers had put together a gritty 95-run partnership, but it was Finn who won the battle of balance as he got rid of Jacques Rudolph and De Villiers in quick succession.
JP Duminy and Vernon Philander got together once more to chip in with 54 runs for the eight-wicket partnership, and South Africa was eventually bowled all out for 350, a lead of 345 firmly in their pocket.
“The way Dale (Steyn) played in the morning was really good; I thought he hung in there and it was good to have him around for around 50 minutes. I think that sort of set up the rest of the day for us,” Amla said.
If England wants to win, the team faces a mammoth task. They’d have to not only chase down the highest score ever at Lord’s, but the highest total they have ever chased anywhere.
“Any score over 300 will be a difficult task, but I also think that any score above 250 is hard, especially in a last innings on a wicket that is deteriorating. The wicket is still good to bat on, but in the last innings, there is this thing called pressure that exists. When we were batting we certainly felt it,” Amla said.
As the visitors strolled out to the middle to battle out the few remaining overs of the day, they looked uncertain, concerned and somewhat out of sorts. So out of sorts that both Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss completely forgot to use their bats to play the ball and were both sent packing early as Philander trapped them leg-before.
"The two big wickets we got in the evening put us in a good position. We know that there is a lot of hard work left, but if we show the intensity we showed on Sunday night, we can make it quite difficult for England,” Amla said.
Day five is poised for a magnificent finish, and while South Africa has been the better side all-round and consistently throughout the series, it faces its biggest Test tomorrow. A drawn Test will still see the team go to the top of the world rankings, but a win will assert South Africa’s dominance and herald a new era.
“The first Test was a pretty comprehensive win for us, but things have ebbed and flowed since then. We've managed to get out of bad situations and it's been an exciting series since. Before we say we really dominated, I think we first need to see how the game unfolds tomorrow,” Amla said. DM
Photo: South Africa's Hashim Amla celebrates reaching his century as he is watched by teammate AB de Villiers (L) and England's Matt Prior (R) during the third cricket test match at Lord's in London August 19, 2012. REUTERS/Philip Brown