Proteas put one hand on top spot

England

A fine century from Hashim Amla, a hefty target for England and two quick breakthroughs from Vernon Philander saw South Africa take another step closer to summiting the Test rankings, at Lord's on Sunday

A fine century from Hashim Amla, a hefty target for England and two quick breakthroughs from Vernon Philander saw South Africa take another step closer to summiting the Test rankings, at Lord's on Sunday.

England closed on 16 for two, still a whopping 330 runs shy of the target they must achieve across Monday's three sessions, if they are to retain their number one ranking.

Having dismissed the Proteas for 351 all out earlier in the day, the hosts sported plenty of ambition for a positive response. However, they lost opening batsmen Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss in quick succession, and don't look like recovering from Vernon Philander's early brace.

Cook, again falling to the seamer, was trapped lbw dead in front of the stumps. Strauss didn't do any better, leaving a straight delivery to be adjudged lbw as plumb as they come. The duo's departure – and the slew of despondent faces across the home team's dressing room – told a sorry tale.

Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott, for their collective pedestrianism, then dropped anchor. There was little penetrating their defences, which will have to make way for far more purposeful shot selection on day five.

Amla's century was another joy to the eye, laced with exquisite off-side play and outstanding strokes through the leg-side, the talented right-hander weighed in with the 16th ton of his Test career en route to 121. While not of The Oval's behemoth proportions, Sunday's performance was equally important to the Proteas' cause.

Steven Finn threatened to burst the tourists' determined bubble, removing Amla, de Villiers and Jacques Rudolph with the new ball, but JP Duminy and Philander were quickly at hand to stave off any potential rot.

The pair put on a half-century stand for the seventh wicket, easing the pressure created by Finn's three-fold success and removing the burden from the tail-enders.

Graeme Swann and James Anderson were later at hand to dislodge numbers 10 and 11, but both men will know the end of the innings should've come a hang of a lot sooner after the first session's blunder.

Adding to the chance wicketkeeper Matt Prior grassed offered by Amla, on two at the time, on Saturday, Anderson shelled an opportunity at midwicket in the first session. De Villiers, welcoming the lifeline on eight, ultimately moved to 43.

England's options are limited from here on in. Bell and Trott cannot allow themselves prolonged passages of play to get themselves in. Attacking, and attacking soon, should be skipper Strauss and coach Andy Flower's demand.

Then Jonny Bairstow, James Taylor and Prior must follow suit. Time, however, will always be against them, if the possibility of inclement weather isn't already.

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