A gritty century, a maiden five-for and a fire scare. An eventful Day 3 at the University Oval in Dunedin ensured that the first Test between New Zealand and South Africa was evenly poised after the visitors erased out the slender lead to finish on 38 for 1 in fading light, on Friday (March 10).New Zealand resumed their innings from the overnight score of 177 for 3 and after two intensely fought sessions of play, squeezed a slender 33-run lead. South Africa’s comeback was led by left-arm spinner who registered his first five-wicket haul.
The home side hit back with an early wicket in the very first over but by the end of a see-saw day, South Africa were back in the lead, albeit only worth five runs. In between, there was news pouring in of Ross Taylor’s availability, a fire alarm going off that forced a theatrical evacuation at the ground and cloudy skies that eventually halted play for the day earlier than the revised schedule.
The hosts did not enjoy an ideal start to the day, losing the overnight batsman Jeetan Patel and local boy Jimmy Neesham early, but their captain showed grit and determination on a surface getting increasingly tougher to bat on.
Vernon Philander ended nightwatchman Patel’s brief yet entertaining stay in the middle as the South African captain Faf du Plessis pulled off a screamer at second slip. Shortly afterwards, Morne Morkel had Neesham caught behind for his first wicket on comeback but not before the third umpire was called to intervene and check on whether the lanky pacer had over-stepped.
It took Kane Williamson close to an hour on the third morning, and loss of two partners at the other end, to get going. But once he did, there was no looking back as the skipper raised his 16th Test century, equalling Ross Taylor’s tally. The duo is now one behind Martin Crowe, who has the most number of hundreds for a New Zealand batsman. It took a beauty of a delivery from Kagiso Rabada to bring curtains down on his resolute knock that set the tone for New Zealand’s reply.
Supporting Williamson at the other end was BJ Watling, who chipped in with an equally impressive half-century. When on 3, the wicketkeeper-batsman was ruled caught in slips but had the decision overturned after asking for a review as both Infra-red and Snicko confirmed there was no bat on it. Watling went on to make exactly 50 – his 13th in Tests – to not only take his side past the 300-run mark but also lay the platform for a crucial lead.
While Keshav Maharaj struck thrice in quick succession to restrict the home side’s lead, Neil Wagner, after all the good work with the ball earlier, chipped in with a run-a-ball 32 to help New Zealand finish at 341. Taylor, who resumed his innings at nine-down, stayed unbeaten on 15.
The first-innings lead, no matter how slender, was always going to bring pressure and what made matters worse for the tourists was Stephen Cook walking off after a faint edge that carried to the keeper, four balls into South Africa’s second innings. Had Cook considered a review, he wouldn’t have had a second failure against his name in the game since the replays failed to spot an edge on the bat. Already 33 runs in deficit, the visitors were one man down without having opened their account in their second innings.
The drama, though, was far from over.
Hashim Amla got going with a couple of boundaries before a fire alarm went off at the University Oval, forcing a complete evacuation – including television crew, players and match officials. The session was held up for nearly 20 minutes, and later extended, but by the time play resumed, the light was deteriorating.
Amla and Dean Elgar played out 11 more overs – and put on an unbeaten 38-run second-wicket stand that pushed South Africa into the lead – before the day’s play was eventually called off early due to bad light.
Brief scores: South Africa 308 & 38/1 (Hashim Amla 23*, Dean Elgar 12*; Trent Boult 1-6) lead New Zealand 341 (Kane Williamson 130, BJ Watling 50; Keshav Maharaj 5-94) by five runs.