CAPE TOWN // They say what goes around comes around and South Africa did to England just what the visitors had done in Durban. Graeme Smith's men had the best of the weather conditions yesterday and the South African captain took advantage, batting his side towards what looks like a series-levelling victory with a whirlwind innings.
Smith finished on 162 not out and his incredible destruction of England's bowlers ensured the hosts lead by 330 runs going into the fourth day, for the loss of just two second innings wickets. The opening batsman put on 230 with Hashim Amla (95), a record second-wicket partnership at Newlands, laying into the visitors' shell-shocked bowlers in the process. England, with temperatures back in the United Kingdom ironically at freezing point, failed to cope in nigh-on 40C and everything that could go wrong did for Andrew Strauss's men.
Just like England did on Monday, South Africa crucially bowled the opposition out early on. Morne Morkel picked up wickets with the third and fourth balls of the day to complete five for 75, with both Graeme Swann (five) and James Anderson (nought) caught by Smith at first slip. Matt Prior helped England to a respectable score of 273, a deficit of 18 runs, with a streaky but aggressive knock until he was bowled by Dale Steyn to depart for 76 and end the innings in the process.
Smith and Ashwell Prince got the Proteas off to a slow start but the latter survived an almighty clanger from umpire Daryl Harper. Anderson had appealed for caught behind down the leg side but Prince was no where near hitting it and the review system backed him up. Smith was intent on leading by example to Swann but had his share of luck, edging past Paul Collingwood who had returned to slip and then spooning up in the air but safe.
It was Prince who was first man to depart with Swann getting the left-hander for the third time in five balls. It was dead straight lbw but the left-hander's ambitious attempts to get the decision overturned on review were in vain. Amla edged Stuart Broad through the slips as South Africa reached lunch at 56 for one. The game started to really go the way of the hosts into the afternoon as England struggled with the conditions.
Smith took the attack to Swann, giving the England off-spinner the charge with several leg-side boundaries, while Amla started to settle, cutting Graham Onions to the boundary in consecutive deliveries. After Smith had reached fifty with a straight drive he was fortunate to survive with the team on 111. Swann's lbw shout was given by Tony Hill but the South African captain reviewed the decision which TV umpire Aleem Dar overturned with the ball going marginally over the stumps.
It proved to be a crucial moment in the match and possibly the series. England's frustrations continued as a fantastic Swann delivery missed everything before hitting the helmet behind Prior to hand South Africa five penalty runs. Amla then struck another couple of boundaries off the back foot before reaching his fifty with a leg side push off Anderson. Amla played some attractive shot as he overtook his captain with England trying everything in terms of bowling options - even the South African-born pair of Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott.
Smith continued the carnage after tea taking on Anderson and Swann down the ground. The left-hander beat Amla in the race to his hundred, beautifully cover-driving Onions for four. Smith's relief at a first century of the series and first since 2008 was plain to see but he could well have gone next ball. Smith nicked behind but the ball bounced just short of Prior as England's despair continued. Amla was edging towards his only three-figure milestone as the pair brought up the 200 partnership.
Trott came on again but Smith tore into him pulling for consecutive boundaries before giving the part-time bowler further punishment two overs later, striking four fours as South Africa had some fun late in the day pushing the run rate past four an over. Amla slowed down at the other end and in the end could not quite reach his hundred, falling to a fine catch by Alastair Cook at short leg off the bowling of Swann.
But Smith continued to hammer England's disappointing bowling, beautifully driving his way past 150. Swann referred a claim late in the day against Jacques Kallis with Collingwood taking a stunning catch, but Dar ruled that the South African all-rounder had not hit it. With considerably cooler weather forecast for the remaining two days, South Africa have a massive chance to square the series. The major question for Smith is when to declare.
But regardless of what he decides, England face a massive fight to save the match and with psychological scars, possibly the series as well. Today will be a very crucial day for both sides in that context. firstname.lastname@example.org South Africa v England, 12.30pm, Showsports 3