Hashim Amla batted through the entire third day for his 157 to give South Africa a chance of drawing the second Test against England.
The deficit is still 276, but South Africa are right in this after losing only one wicket in the day.
Amla’s innings was reminiscent of the player the cricketing world has come to know and admire over the years. His lean spell, the worst of his career, is over and his knock was defined by patience, elegance, concentration and determination.
It is exactly what South Africa (353-3) needed as they continued from their overnight score of 141-2. The other stalwart was AB de Villiers (88), who fell just before tea after sharing a 183-run partnership with Amla.
He fell 13.3 overs after the second new ball had been taken when James Anderson caught his pull shot off Steven Finn’s bowling.
Both Amla and De Villiers reached milestones during the day. De Villiers became the third South African to reach 8 000 Test runs while Amla became the fifth South African to reach 7 000 Test runs.
In another sign that 2016 could be a much better one for the Test side, South Africa passed 250 for the first time in a year. It just shows what a good wicket this is to bat on.
The question then becomes: have the Proteas turned a corner? It’s too early to tell, but as long as Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander remain unavailable, the bowling will continue to struggle.
Faf du Plessis, another batsman who desperately needed some runs, scored 51 not out – his highest score and first fifty in 12 innings.
While the follow-on has not yet been avoided, England are unlikely to enforce it if they get the chance as their bowlers will need a rest after more than 120 overs in the field.
There is no assistance for the bowlers at all in this pitch. They always say you can only judge a performance once both teams have batted and South Africa’s best batting performance in a year puts England’s total of 629-6 slightly into perspective.
When there is nothing in a pitch, you have to take your chances when they come and that, to Alastair Cook’s great frustration, has been England’s biggest sin so far.
They have dropped three catches in the entire South African innings (Amla twice, on 76 and 120, and De Villiers on five) and when you give players of that quality second chances they usually make you pay.
There were a few half chances here and there with balls falling short of fielders, but the clear-cut chances were butchered and England have only themselves to blame if South Africa manage to bat well into day four.
Finn was the pick of the England bowlers as he looked most threatening and maintained a good line and length to the batsmen.
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