With Hashim Amla batting through the day for an unbeaten 157 and AB de Villiers the only batsman to fall, for 88, South Africa closed the third day at Newlands on 353 for 3. Although it still trails England’s 629 for 6 declared by 276 runs, the South Africans will feel they are more than halfway to making the game safe.
The pitch has become easier to bat on, but England’s fielders were guilty of blowing the opportunities that would have kept the pressure on the South Africans. De Villiers had been dropped in the slips on five on Sunday, and Amla was put down twice on Monday.
South Africa resumed on 141 for 2 knowing that time, rather than runs, was the currency of the day. England bowled a probing line around off stump but found no lateral movement - even after a ball change 15 minutes into the day – and Amla and de Villiers expertly drew the sting out of the match. Just 20 runs came from 13 overs in the first hour.
The second hour brought the day’s critical moment, as Joe Root found the edge of Amla’s bat and James Anderson put the chance down at slip – a reverse of the de Villiers opportunity on the second evening. At that stage South Africa was 176 for 2 with Amla on 76, and England might have been able to get into their wobbly middle order.
Instead, South Africa batted through the session without losing a wicket to reach lunch on 199 for 2, and notched up their first century stand in a Test since the 2014 Boxing Day Test against West Indies in Port Elizabeth. In the process, de Villiers went to fifty and passed 8000 Test runs, and, from the first ball after lunch, Amla eclipsed the 7000-run mark with a glorious drive through the covers. At the end of the same over, he carved Moeen Ali through backward point to reach his 24th Test century to warm applause.
The second new ball brought an eventful period as de Villiers was given out lbw and had the decision overturned on review due to an inside edge, and Amla was dropped again – this time by Nick Compton at backward point off Steven Finn. The partnership finally came to an end four overs later when Finn finally got deserved reward, as de Villiers pulled a short ball to Anderson at midwicket. It was the first wicket to fall to a bowler in almost two days, and it ended the partnership on 183.
South Africa went to tea on 290 for 3 soon after, and enjoyed an incident-free evening session, even if Faf du Plessis had a jittery start to his innings.
After reaching 150, Amla went into his shell and scored just seven runs in the final 20 overs of the day. At the other end, du Plessis reached his first half-century in exactly a year, ending a horror run of ten innings that yielded just 119 runs. He closed on 51 not out.