South Africa captain Graeme Smith registered his 25th Test century in his 100th match to steer South Africa to an imposing 187 for one at lunch on the third day of the first Test against England at The Oval yesterday.
Smith was 103 not out and Hashim Amla was equally impressive on 80 not out, as the Proteas continued their fightback after an inauspicious first day.
They trailed England’s first innings by 198 runs and with the pitch flat and the sun out, batting conditions are expected to remain good for the remainder of the day.
Burly left-hander Smith went to 99 with a dab to third man off Tim Bresnan in the over before lunch, then reached a special century with a back cut in the same over.
He embraced Amla and acknowledged warm applause from the capacity crowd, having become the seventh to achieve a hundred in his hundredth Test.
Smith’s innings has so far been a tale of two 50s. His first was the slowest of his career, reaching the milestone in 160 painstaking deliveries as he was especially tested by off-spinner Graeme Swann on a turning pitch.
However, he faced just 41 deliveries to go from 50 to 100, eventually turning the pressure back on to Swann, who conceded 21 runs off the final two overs of his first spell.
Amla has looked in total control and his cover driving to the faster bowlers off the front and back foot has been imperious. While England tried various tactics against Smith, employing unconventional leg-side field placings to slow his scoring, they seemed helpless to find a way to trouble Amla.
Smith still managed to find the leg-side boundary with ease, despite England using two mid-wickets and a fine leg or at another time two at mid-on and the fine leg.
The other batsmen to have scored a century in their 100th Tests are Colin Cowdrey, Gordon Greenidge, Javed Miandad, Alec Stewart, Inzamam-ul Haq and Ricky Ponting.
England are seeking to hold on to their top ranking, while the Proteas can leapfrog England if they win the three-match series. The evidence of the first seven sessions suggests it will be a hard-fought contest to the end.