Starting the day on 86 for one in reply to England’s 385, Smith and Amla batted with cool assurance and, with Jacques Kallis adding 82 not out at the end of the day, the Proteas completed one of their proudest days in many years.
Smith, with the pressure of expectation in his 100th Test adding to all the other burdens he bears so splendidly, marched to his century two balls before lunch, after four-and-a-half hours and 201 balls at the crease. South Africa’s captain and pride became just the seventh batsman to score a hundred in his 100th Test, joining the illustrious club of Colin Cowdrey, Gordon Greenidge, Javed Miandad, Alec Stewart, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Ricky Ponting.
The left-hander went on to 131, working the bowlers into his favoured leg side with enormous skill, but also playing some wonderful strokes through the off-side to thoroughly frustrate an England team that did not know where to bowl to him.
Smith eventually fell five overs before tea when he contrived to play a delivery from Tim Bresnan with his usual closed face of the bat on to the back of his front leg, from where the ball rebounded back on to the stumps.
But Amla continued to hold court, punishing anything loose with ruthless timing and placement as he made it to stumps on a magnificent 183 not out. Amla was highly effective when on the back foot, his punches through the off side being absolutely sumptious, but he was also majestic on the front foot, driving beautifully.
With Amla in the zone and in such masterful form, Kallis just got on with things quietly at the other end and had gone to 82 not out by stumps with no fuss at all.
It was most definitely not the day England had planned at all and their attack was reduced to powder-puff ineffectiveness by the end of the day.
Jimmy Anderson was troubled by the footholds and bowled 19 wicketless overs for 63 runs on Saturday. Graeme Swann, the other leader of the England attack, was utterly frustrated as Smith, who had been tied down by him initially, turned the tables and scored freely off the off-spinner after the first hour. Despite plenty of rough to work with, Swann finished the day with none for 99 in 42 overs.
It was a day when South Africa’s top-order were soaring high, without trying anything fancy. Just tremendous skill and concentration.
It is England who will now have to perform some special aerobatics to get back into the game.