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Page last updated at 16:24 GMT, Saturday, 19 December 2009

Jonathan Agnew column

Jonathan Agnew
By Jonathan Agnew
BBC cricket correspondent

A brilliant century from Hashim Amla transformed the day and took South Africa into the position from which they are well-placed to win.

After losing the wicket of Andrew Strauss before the close, the best England can hope for is to save the game on the final day.

Amla is a most unusual batsman and, I think, the most improved player in international cricket. When we first saw him five years ago, he looked out of his depth and, frankly, a selection based on the quota system.

Hashim Amla celebrates his seventh Test hundred
Amla hit his second hundred against England

If that was the case, then his vast improvement since is the best example of the benefit of affirmative action.

Only Pakistan's Mohammed Yousuf matches Amla for flexible wrists. He drives the ball almost impossibly square through the off side and because of his unpredictability is such an exciting batsman to watch. Give me Amla ahead of, say, Jacques Kallis any day.

The day started well for England, who needed to take quick wickets and through some good luck, managed to claim three within 18 overs.

Paul Harris was bowled off his pads behind his legs, Graeme Smith deflected a delivery from Graham Onions into his stumps via an inside edge for 12 and the big wicket was Kallis who was clearly frustrated in scoring only four from 32 balls, and he pulled a short ball from Stuart Broad straight to deep square leg.

It was a tremendous bonus, and while there had been an element of good fortune involved, England's bowlers had created great pressure by giving the South Africans no opportunities to score.

At lunch, South Africa's lead was only 142 with six wickets in hand, but any realistic hopes England had of a realistic victory target were snuffed out by the partnership of 119 between Amla and AB deVilliers that dominated the afternoon.


De Villiers was typically busy and resourceful and it took a brilliant catch from Ian Bell at cover to remove him.

Much is made of Bell's prospects in the team, but from a fielding perspective, England can scarcely do without him.

Jonathan Trott is a fine leg specialist and Paul Collingwood is now required in the slip cordon. It will not directly affect team selection, but it should be a consideration.

JP Duminy gambled on the Decision Review System and lost, falling lbw to Anderson for 11 and when Amla flicked Broad for four to bring up his seventh Test century, he had transformed South Africa's position.

He was undone by an utterly unplayable shooter which might well have prompted Smith to bring forward his declaration.

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see also
England deflated by Amla century
19 Dec 09 |  England
Broad must stop moaning - Vaughan
19 Dec 09 |  England
Michael Vaughan Q&A
21 Dec 09 |  Cricket
Harris aiming to put England in a spin
11 Dec 09 |  South Africa
Swann keeps England in contention
17 Dec 09 |  England
Ntini reaches 100-Test milestone
15 Dec 09 |  South Africa
Live cricket on the BBC
26 Oct 11 |  Cricket
England in South Africa 2009-10
17 Jan 10 |  England

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