Tea New Zealand 268 and 139 for 5 (Raval 72*, Watling 14*) lead South Africa 359 (de Kock 91, Bavuma 89, de Grandhomme 3-52) by 48 runs
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Morne Morkel claimed two wickets in his opening spell © Getty Images
South Africa put themselves in pole position for victory at the Basin Reserve as they reduced New Zealand to 139 for 5 at tea on the third day, a lead of just 48. Morne Morkel and Keshav Maharaj shared the five wickets before a battling sixth-wicket stand between Jeet Raval, who moved to a career-best score, and Wellington rescue specialist BJ Watling took New Zealand into positive territory.
South Africa’s lead finished on 91 after the last four wickets had added 265 to lift them from their precarious position of 94 for 6 on the second morning. Only twice have New Zealand overhauled a bigger deficit to win (one of them at Wellington, against Sri Lanka in 2015) and it soon became clear that it would be a huge task to take anything from the match.
Morkel claimed two in his opening spell, including Kane Williamson for his second failure of the match, then returned after lunch to break a small recovery between Raval and Neil Broom. Losing wickets to the pace and bounce of Morkel was one thing, but New Zealand again handed wickets to the left-arm spin of Maharaj who, during a teasing 14-over stint, claimed Henry Nicholls and James Neesham in one over.
At that point New Zealand were still behind by a run, but Raval and Watling at least stopped the bleeding up to tea. Raval had done well to survive the morning, coming through Kagiso Rabada’s pre-lunch spell – in which he pushed the speedgun towards 150kph – as he was repeatedly struck around the gloves but showed excellent technique to keep the ball down. It wasn’t always pretty, his hands taking a pounding, and off the penultimate ball of the session he fended another short ball wide of silly point who had just been brought in to crowd the batsman.
During the afternoon he took on the short ball from Morkel in an absorbing contest where both participants didn’t take a backward step – pulling Morkel for consecutive boundaries either side of deep square – on his way to a 98-ball half-century. He did, though, offer two chances: on 53 he was spilled in the gully by JP Duminy and on 67, against Duminy’s second ball, Quinton de Kock failed to take a stumping chance.
After the brief skirmishes at the start of the day when Morkel equalled his highest Test score the contest went up a level as South Africa’s quicks armed themselves with the new ball. Morkel was immediately causing discomfort although talked Faf du Plessis into wasting a review in the opening over when they asked for an lbw against Tom Latham which the batsman had inside-edged (and was probably outside off as well). Latham’s torment did not last long, though, when he sparred at a length ball and offered a simple catch to gully. There are few alternative opening options around New Zealand, but Latham’s recent form has been bleak.
It meant Williamson was again exposed with the ball still very new and his stay was brief when Morkel made one straighten from off stump to graze the outside edge. Kumar Dharmasena did not detect the very thin nick, but this time du Plessis’ call for DRS – which was almost instant – was spot on and they had kept Williamson to a return of just three runs in the Test.
Broom did not have to stew too long on the prospect of a debut pair when he tapped the ball into point for a personally precious single. He was then given a thorough working over by an exemplary spell from Vernon Philander who probed and beat his outside edge with waspish movement. A couple of the deliveries were like 130kph leg-breaks and survival was the only option. However, Broom managed a classy response with a strong back-foot drive through the covers as Philander’s seven-over spell drew to a close.
But he couldn’t carry on far beyond the interval as in Morkel’s first over after the break he edged behind where, in a replay of the first innings, de Kock took a flying catch in front of first slip. This time, though, the catch would have reached Hashim Amla and it took a few moments for team-mates to realise de Kock had grasped it.
Then followed a crazy over of batting against Maharaj who has been donated a few wickets in this series. Firstly Nicholls, who needed treatment for a blow on the hand, under-edged a sweep against a wide delivery into his stumps and then five balls later Neesham came down the pitch, flicked in the air and the ball was plucked out at midwicket by du Plessis’ latest blinding catch.
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo