South Africa 229 for 4 (Elgar 128*, Bavuma 38*) v New Zealand
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Dean Elgar scored his seventh Test century and neared his career-best score © Getty Images
On 22 consecutive occasions, the captain winning the toss in New Zealand had opted to bowl. When South Africa were 22 for 3 on the opening day in Dunedin, Dean Elgar may have pondered if Faf du Plessis had picked the right time to end that run. But Elgar did more than most to make sure it worked out fine in the end as his seventh Test hundred carried South Africa to 229 for 4.
The dominant stand of the day came between Elgar, who was dropped by BJ Watling on 36, and du Plessis as they added 126 for the fourth wicket before further consolidation alongside Temba Bavuma in a stand of 81 which survived the entire final session. However, New Zealand ensured the game did not run away from them, for the most part keeping a lid on the scoring, after making the surprise decision of selecting only two frontline spinners.
Elgar’s seventh Test century, and a third in his last seven outings, came from 197 balls including 20 boundaries which highlighted how focused he was on leaving and defending unless there was something on offer to attack. He has become one of the preeminent opening batsmen in the game, although his returns can fly under the radar. He was named Man of the Series against Sri Lanka in January and this innings took his average above 40 for the first time since his third Test (which was also against New Zealand) as he finished within two runs of a new career-best score.
While Elgar’s recent returns mean this performance shouldn’t be unexpected, there was plenty at the start of the day which did confound expectation. Kane Williamson had put considerable faith in his luck with the coin changing after making the crunch decision to leave out vice-captain Tim Southee in favour of Jeetan Patel. But after losing all five tosses in the one-day series the run continued which meant bowling with an attack New Zealand would be more expected to field on the subcontinent than at home: it was the first time they had selected two specialist spinners at University Oval.
Patel was bowling by the sixth over and conceded just eight runs in his first 10 overs to help New Zealand build and sustain pressure in the first session. There was certainly some grip for him and Mitchell Santner to suggest the selection call was not out of the realms of fantasy, but there were times when New Zealand felt a quick bowler light.
There was nothing strange, however, in the manner of the early wickets. Stephen Cook’s defensive mindset led to him padding up against Trent Boult. Then Neil Wagner, on his home ground, produced a superb over at the start of his second spell. Firstly, he caught Hashim Amla flat-footed, after he had made 1 off 27 balls, with a full delivery which clattered into the stumps and then he switched to Wagner 101 mode with a brute of a short ball to bounce out JP Duminy.
When you are a captain who was undecided what to do until moments before the toss, you are probably questioning your decision to bat when walking in at 22 for 3. But alongside Elgar, du Plessis took the sting out of the morning session. A penny for Southee’s thoughts as he saw the ball swinging but a spinner in operation.
Neil Wagner’s double-strike in the 19th over sent back Hashim Amla and JP Duminy © AFP
The major moment of the day came off the first delivery of the second over after lunch when Elgar tickled Boult down the leg side but Watling could not gather the low catch. He did not offer another chance. As the fourth-wicket partnership bedded in, Williamson was left with the juggling act of not over-bowling Boult and Wagner. The way in which Elgar and du Plessis bided their time reinforced how they knew they could force Williamson’s hand and their reward was a period before tea which brought seven boundaries in 19 deliveries, although that was a rare period of brisk scoring.
Du Plessis reached his fifty with a delightful drive off Santner before handing New Zealand a boost during an action-packed over against James Neesham who had been selected ahead of Colin de Grandhomme but not bowled until the 57th over. Clocking over 140kph, Neesham had du Plessis given lbw only for the decision to be overturned by the DRS due to a very thin edge (du Plessis initially reviewed for height, so thin was the nick). Three balls later there was no doubt, du Plessis pulling to Boult at deep midwicket ten minutes before tea in uncharacteristically careless fashion.
It was an opening for New Zealand, especially with Bavuma coming off 21 runs in five innings against Sri Lanka, but while the bowling remained accurate it was difficult with the ageing ball. Elgar moved into the 90s with a neat skip down the pitch to loft Santner down the ground then reached three figures with a crunching pull through midwicket off Neesham.
Bavuma took 20 balls to open his account but after a top-edged hook evaded long leg became more secure, surviving Wagner’s attempts to rough him up with the older ball. The new ball was taken and caused a few uneasy moments, but could not conjure the breakthrough New Zealand needed. There was much that went against history on the opening day of this series and though it’s too early to say how history will judge the match, South Africa will have ended highly satisfied with having hauled themselves out of the mire.
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo