Cow Corner

Don’t blame the pitch, laud Amla and South Africa

It's all too easy, isn't it? Blaming the pitch for the bowlers' inability to run through a side at home leads to any number of excuses and curt responses.

The simple fact of the matter is this: South Africa boast a collection of masterful batsmen, with none more indomitable than Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis.

It is very hard to overstate how well Amla and Kallis - and captain Graeme Smith earlier in the match - played, and the records broken by the pair are testament to that.

Let's get one thing out of the way right off the bat, however: the pitch at The Oval is a shocker; not in the sense that it is dangerous or unreasonable, but simply placid and lifeless. Devoid of any real character and unwilling to provide an even contest between ball and bat.

It is a desperately poor pitch for a balanced game of Test cricket, but that is as much as Cowers is willing to talk about the deck given the quite remarkable exploits of South Africa's batsmen.

Besides, England's weary capitulation late in the day in their second innings only served to render any pitch-related excuses irrelevant and compound their misery. South Africa have been all-round the best side by a very big margin, and have dominated in every aspect of the game.

But on to Amla, and the exploits of a quite phenomenal effort with the bat.

After already defying England and taking the game away from the hosts entirely, Amla went on to pass team-mate AB de Villiers's record of 278 to hit the new highest Test score by a South African. The ovation around The Oval was warm, the applause thunderous.

Next up for the irrepressible number three was the 300 mark, which he duly passed later on in the afternoon session, prompting another rapturous reception. This was no ordinary knock on a flat track, this was inspired batting of the very highest quality.

Amla became just the second overseas batsman after Don Bradman (twice) and Bob Simpson to reach the mark in England.

Captain Smith declared at the tea break to leave Amla unbeaten on 311, with the batsman having shared a monumental 377-run stand with the equally unmovable Kallis.

The gutsy number four was left on 182 not out, and his knock was no less impressive in terms of the application and determination he showed throughout to not allow England a sniff of a potential breakthrough.

It was Kallis's 43rd Test century. Only India's Sachin Tendulkar has scored more, with 51, and Kallis celebrated by pointing to his eyes - a show of solidarity for wicketkeeper Mark Boucher who was forced to retire from international cricket after suffering a serious eye injury before the series started.

It was also Kallis's first Test ton in England since Old Trafford in 1998, and he was clearly moved by the opportunity to pay tribute to his good friend Boucher, with the injury having shaken him badly earlier on in the tour.

The partnership between Amla and Kallis was the highest third-wicket stand against England by anyone and the first time they had conceded two 250-run stands in the same innings - following the 259 for the second wicket.

Since removing Alvrio Petersen, England rattled through 186 overs for a solitary success, and South Africa went on to prove that the hosts' struggles were not solely down to the pitch as they showed how it was done with the ball in the final session.

The visitors proceeded to make major inroads into a dispirited England side as the match was left further imbalanced ahead of the final day with South Africa honing in on a thoroughly deserved victory.

As much as it was a remarkable effort from the tourists as a whole, the day belonged to Amla, who left the field with countless records having made history and made his countrymen extremely proud.

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STAT OF THE DAY: Before today's play, no side had ever recorded two successive 200+ run partnerships in the same innings against England. Amla and Smith, then Amla and Kallis achieved just that for South Africa.

TWEET OF THE DAY: "Highest third wicket partnership now v England in Tests. Previous best was 363 by Yousuf Mohammad & Younis Khan in August 2006, in Leeds." (@Saj_PakPassion)

USER COMMENT OF THE DAY: "Well in the Ashes in '05 and '09 we had a shocking first game and took it to the Aussies in the second game. If we get out of this with a draw we can take the game to SA. Come on England!" (Rhys remains impressively optimistic despite another quite staggeringly poor day for the hosts)