Williamson’s record-equalling ton helps NZ take lead

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Williamson notched up a fine unbeaten hundred

South Africa hit back with three quick wickets in the last hour after New Zealand had assumed control of the third Test in Hamilton, courtesy a 190-run stand between Kane Williamson and Jeet Raval for the second-wicket. However, Williamson’s unbeaten 148 – a record equalling century – helped the hosts surpass South Africa’s first innings score of 314 and take a lead of seven runs.

It was a good Monday at Seddon Park with no rain interruptions. Play, which was set to start half an hour earlier to compensate for the loss of overs on the first two days, got delayed by an hour due to wet outfield.

However, once play began on Day 3, there was no stoppage barring the regulated session and drinks breaks. Given the importance of the clash and the weather not promising to be good in the coming days, this was as good a news that both sides and cricket fans could have asked for after two disappointing weekend days of rain-hit cricket.

Openers Tom Latham and Raval, who resumed the innings on overnight score of 69 for no loss, started steady, before the former ended up getting an outside edge to the ‘keeper. Morne Morkel, bowling from around the wicket, got the ball to come in and induced the left-hander to edge one in the line of uncertainty.

He hung his bat out to give the lanky pacer his 250th Test wicket, and walked back to the pavilion soon after registering his fifty. It was a much-needed knock coming from the Canterbury batsman, who had amassed only 74 runs in his last 10 innings, but yet managed to have the faith of the team management in the must-win encounter.

Fortunately for New Zealand, the wicket didn’t break their momentum. Williamson and Raval combined, and in contrasting fashion kept the South African bowlers at bay for 58 overs. While Williamson stroked his way with aggression and elegance, Raval dropped anchor, especially after notching up his fourth Test fifty. In the second session, the latter contributed only 17 of the 77 runs scored by the hosts.

Williamson, on the other hand, didn’t hold back in playing his shots. He stepped out against Keshav Maharaj to tonk him down the ground and even brought up his 5000th run in Test cricket – fastest by a New Zealand batsman – with a pull off Vernon Philander that went for a flat six through the square leg region. To stamp his class further, he replayed that shot against Morkel – the one with a much meaner bouncer, faster and steeper – as well. One batsman with runs and the other with resolute defense kept eating up the South African lead. In the first two sessions of play, Latham’s dismissal was the only success the tourists could relish.

The script unfolded in a similar pattern in the first hour after Tea, the highlight of which was a superb on-drive from Williamson for a boundary off Dean Elgar to bring up his 17th Test century – record jointly shared by Martin Crowe. All of 26, in many ways, it was Williamson’s statement of allowing him an unquestioned entry into the league of New Zealand cricket’s all-time great.

It needed a ripper from Morkel and a stunning one-handed catch from Quinton de Kock to end the second-wicket stand. Operating from round the wicket, the ball cut back in and the left-hander had little option but to fend it. The wicketkeeper dived to his right to pluck a superb catch and send the batsman back to the pavilion, 12 short of a well-deserved century.

Rabada, who was conceding runs at more than four an over, struck twice in quick succession thereafter to help the visitors crawl back into the contest. He trapped Neil Broom off his 11th delivery and produced a faint edge down the leg off Henry Nicholls’s first to have him caught behind, and reduce New Zealand from 273 for 1 to 293 for 4.

Mitchell Santner offered good support to his captain as the duo ensured a safe passage to Stumps, with New Zealand posting 321 runs on the board for the loss of four wickets.

Brief Scores: South Africa 314 (Quinton De Kock 90, Faf du Plessis 53, Hashim Amla 50; Matt Henry 4-57, Colin De Grandhomme 3-104) trail New Zealand 321/4 (Kane Williamson 148*, Jeet Raval 88; Morne Morkel 2-74, Kagiso Rabada 2-83) by 7 runs

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