Herculean Amla hastens victory charge

Hashim Amla scored his country's first ever Test triple-century to set up a hefty declaration before England lost four quick, key wickets as South Africa closed in on victory in the series opener at The Oval.

Hashim Amla scored his country's first ever Test triple-century to set up a hefty declaration before England lost four quick, key wickets as South Africa closed in on victory in the series opener.

Amla moved to 311 not out on Sunday, surpassing his previous highest score of 253 against India in Nagpur two years ago and the 278 not out AB de Villiers amassed versus Pakistan in Abu Dhabi in 2010. His outstanding showing included all of 35 boundaries and spanned in excess of 13 hours.

Near flawless, the modest right-hander will be the first to acknowledge that he endured scares on 299 and shortly after reaching 300 after Ravi Bopara spilled a couple of very sharp chances.

Jacques Kallis, meanwhile, graduated to the 43rd ton of his prolific career en route to an unbeaten 182 (326 deliveries, 23 fours, one six), as the Proteas reached an intimidating total of 637 for two declared and then reduced England to 102 for four at the close of play on day four at The Oval.

Minus the services of Alastair Cook, Andrew Strauss, Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen, who were all removed in the first 27 overs of the response, the home side will rely heavily on Ian Bell and Ravi Bopara to force a draw come day five in London.

South Africa's dominance of days two and three enjoyed a familiar trend on Sunday, when Amla and Kallis took full toll against a tired attack battling a flat pitch. Their unbroken 377-run alliance was the nation's greatest yet for the third wicket, and made England's much-lauded bowling ranks seem second string at best.

Amla's vigil was laced with pure majesty, and endured very few false strokes, even when the quest for quick runs was on ahead of the declaration. Kallis' vigil was much the same, with the veteran's exquisite shot selection typified by a slew of cover drives to the fence across one particularly languid over from Stuart Broad.

A marathon, sapping day brought a third new ball for England, who wouldn't have required such desperation for the better part of the last three years. Even then they couldn't achieve the breakthrough required to end Amla and Kallis' imperiousness. While Bopara and Trott's freelance trundlers were afforded a handful of overs, captain Strauss' pride wasn't far gone enough to avail the ball to other part-timers.

South Africa's utter supremacy with the bat duly had questions around how soon Graeme Smith would declare on the tip of fans and pundits' tongues. All was revealed when, shortly into the tea break, Smith returned England to the crease.

Perhaps expecting to field for another 40 minutes or so, and arguably caught by surprise, the top-order promptly floundered – Cook, Strauss, Trott and Pietersen all succumbed to the pressure.

First-innings centurion Cook was the first to go, with the left-hander undone by a peach of a line and length from Vernon Philander, with AB de Villiers at hand for the edge to have the opener out for a duck.

Trott fell in similar fashion, out to Dale Steyn for 10, while Pietersen's lifeline after being dropped by Kallis in the slips in the previous over was shortlived when Morne Morkel castled him in the following over.

Strauss, well aware that leg-spinner Imran Tahir was finding vicious turn and bounce, insisted on the sweep, and paid the price when a top edge looped to Philander at square-leg. Four down and reeling, the number one-ranked Test side failed to live up to their status.

Bopara's 15 not out and Bell's unbeaten 14 staved off the rot through to the close of play but, with the deficit still 150, the duo will require a partnership akin to the one amassed by Kallis and Amla to prevent the Proteas clinching first blood of the three-match series.

<b>Jonhenry Wilson</b>