Saturday, August 9, 2008

Amla sparkles on shortened day

Stuart Broad celebrates the wicket of Neil McKenzie.

Hashim Amla stroked his ninth Test fifty as South Africa reduced the deficit to just 12, on a shortened third day at The Oval. James Anderson and Steve Harmison were both guilty of bowling a little too wide, and runs flowed accordingly to leave the match fascinatingly poised as South Africa whittled away at the deficit. However, rain restricted play to 17.5 overs before play was abandoned at 4.55pm.

After a 30-minute drizzle delay, Harmison looked in good rhythm from the off but, though his pace was useful, his line was too wide to trouble Amla and Neil McKenzie who, time and again, left balls outside off stump. Playing well back in his crease and with soft hands, McKenzie angled deliveries out to point and gully and, when he came onto the front foot, drove elegantly through extra cover to bring up South Africa's fifty. Shortly afterwards, however, McKenzie was beaten for pace by Harmison, top-edging a pull but it scooted past Monty Panesar at fine-leg.

Amla, meanwhile, continued where he left off from last night and took advantage of Anderson's drifting deliveries into his leg-stump, flicking him with wristy power through square-leg. The next delivery, too, was pounced upon and sweetly timed past the lazy dive of Panesar at mid-on as runs began to flow and the deficit was decreasing steadily and surely.

McKenzie pulled Harmison for another powerful four through midwicket as Kevin Pietersen switched his field placings around, keen for a breakthrough. And after an hour's play, he turned to Stuart Broad for inspiration - and the decision immediately paid off. A testing, pacey over to McKenzie troubled the right-hander with good line on his off stump. After digging out a yorker and getting a thick inside-edge onto his pads, another inside-edge cannoned into his middle stump to give England a much-needed breakthrough.

Nevertheless, South Africa remained in a useful position, trailing by just 40 and Amla continued to look in excellent touch although he survived an inside edge on 58, as Tim Ambrose couldn't hold a tough catch to his left. An elegant punch through extra cover off the back foot, in Andrew Flintoff's first over of the day, brought up his aggressive fifty, and he followed the landmark with a canny nudge past gully for four more. Flintoff was audibly furious, reflecting his team's frustration at letting South Africa off the hook.

All eyes were on Jacques Kallis, who has struggled his way to 95 unconvincing runs in this series. It seems inconceivable that he will end his tour without a hundred, and if ever South Africa need him to fire, it was now. As more drizzle fell to prompt an early lunch, the deficit had been reduced to 12 as the match was left intriguingly poised, albeit at the mercy of continued rain. However, with six sessions left in the match and the forecast looking much better, there is still plenty of time for both sides to force victory.