Tea South Africa 153 for 4 (Elgar 92*, Bavuma 0*) v New Zealand
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Dean Elgar led South Africa’s resistance © Getty Images
Dean Elgar had termed the University Oval pitch “juicy” two days out from the first Test and had talked up the strength of South Africa’s pace attack, so when the score read 22 for 3 on the opening morning in Dunedin he may have pondered why he was batting.
But as he has done regularly of late he dug in, weathered the early challenge, and began to flourish during the afternoon after being dropped on 36. In a partnership of 126 with captain Faf du Plessis, he lifted South Africa to 153 for 4 at tea and was unbeaten on 92 at the interval.
Du Plessis had become the first captain to bat in New Zealand for 23 Tests and it would have been interesting to be a fly on the wall when he greeted Elgar in the middle, but by tea, the day was looking better for them. Du Plessis didn’t make it that far, though, when he carelessly pulled to deep midwicket four balls after being reprieved by the DRS to hand New Zealand a late-session lift.
The start of the Test had confounded expectation with more than just du Plessis’ decision to bat. That was swayed largely by New Zealand selecting two spinners for the first time in Dunedin, opting to leave out vice-captain Tim Southee, and the small matter of 201 Test wickets, to accommodate Jeetan Patel who then bowled the sixth over of the Test.
Still, the early damage was done in more conventional style as Trent Boult and Neil Wagner, the latter on his home ground, shared the three early wickets. Wagner struck twice in five balls at the start of his second spell – a terrific double-play to clean up Hashim Amla with a full ball then bounce out JP Duminy – while Patel conceded just eight runs in his first 10 overs.
Slowly, though, South Africa gained a foothold with Kane Williamson needing to juggle his two frontline quicks. It was too soon to say whether the selection was a masterstroke or foolhardy (the occasional ball gripped for Patel and Mitchell Santner) but there was no doubt there were moments when a third specialist quick would have been handy.
What was shaping as a pivotal moment of the day came off the first ball of the second over after lunch when Elgar, on 36, tickled Boult down the leg side but BJ Watling could not gather a low chance. Elgar went to boundary-dominated fifty from 124 balls and had 18 fours by tea, including three off James Neesham’s first over when he was eventually given a bowl in the 57th over of the day.
Du Plessis was content to give plenty of time to the bowlers, well aware that he could cause Williamson a headache with the reduced pace resources at his disposal, and reached his fifty with a delightful drive against Santner.
Then came the action-packed over against Neesham, who was preferred to Colin de Grandhomme and bowled above 140kph, when du Plessis was given lbw 52; he reviewed thinking it was high and was saved when the third umpire ruled conclusive evidence of a thin nick. But du Plessis didn’t cash in, swinging a short ball down the throat of Boult at deep midwicket to bring an uncharacteristic end to a restrained innings
Not since Daniel Vettori, against Pakistan at Wellington in 2011, had a captain in a Test in New Zealand said “we’ll bat” and shortly after the hour mark du Plessis may have been regretting not allowing his quicks first go.
Boult, in his 50th Test, struck first when Stephen Cook’s defensive mindset led to him padding up to a ball which would have taken the top of the stumps. After the first hour, South Africa were 16 for 1 off 16 overs and things did not get any easier.
Following a nine-over opening burst from Boult – his workload, as one of two specialist quicks, could become an issue – he was replaced by Wagner and the impact was immediate. A full delivery swung in and defeated Amla, who had made 1 off his previous 27 deliveries, when his feet were stuck in the crease.
Five balls later it was Wagner 101 when a superbly directed bouncer glanced Duminy’s glove and looped to first slip. Duminy thought it may have been straight off his helmet and after consulting with Elgar opted to review, but it was a clear glove and surprising that Duminy hadn’t felt it. It was a brute of a delivery and New Zealand were over the moon, but from there, things got tougher.
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo