Proteas edge opening exchange

A brilliant fighting maiden hundred by Henry Nicholls (118) rescued New Zealand from very rocky beginnings but it is South Africa who probably hold the honours on the first day after limiting their hosts to a sub-par 268 all out at the Basin Reserve in Wellington. South Africa are however in a spot of bother themselves as they find themselves 24 for two at stumps.

South Africa won the toss yet again (the visitors won every one of the five ODI tosses and both Tests so far) and Faf du Plessis elected to bowl. The skipper did not have to wait long as his top order crumbled to 21 for three by way of some exceptional bowling on a pitch that looks friendly to batsmen but did a bit first up.  

It was a beautiful day of Test cricket at a ground that is the country’s premier Test cricket venue for good reason

New Zealand were forced to make two changes to replace their injured star bowler, Trent Boult, and batsman, Ross Taylor. Neil Broom thus took his first Test cap and Tim Southee returned to the side one match after he was dropped, despite having been man of the match in two of his previous three games. All-rounder Colin de Grandhomme was given a nod ahead of the second spinner in Dunedin, Mitch Santner.

Morne Morkel was given the new ball ahead of Kagiso Rabada and he made it talk from the get go. The tall seam bowler trapped Tom Latham in front during his second over but the appeal was turned down by the umpire and Morkel (2/82) failed to ask for a DRS review that would have been in his favour.

He did get his man two overs later, however, and then Rabada (2-59) got the big fish Kane Williamson (2) just two overs later.

When Broom (0) nicked an unplayable ball from Rabada and a diving Quinton de Kock took a ripper of a catch low in front of slip, New Zealand found themselves in all kinds of trouble at 21 for three.

Enter from stage right, Mr Henry Nicholls. Jeet Raval (36) consolidated, as Nicholls counter-attacked, but then threw away another solid start and edged an innocuous ball outside off from Keshav Maharaj (2-47) with hard hands to Hashim Amla at slip. Jimmy Neesham (15) was that spinner’s next victim as he went dancing down the wicket and was stumped. 101 for five when another beacon of dogged resilience, BJ Watling found himself at the crease.

The pitch had settled down markedly after lunch and Watling and Nicholls made hay while the sun shone on this beautiful big roundabout of a cricketing theatre. The pair put on 116 runs for the sixth wicket and threatened to wrestle back the advantage after a torrid morning.

Nicholls’ innings was both mature and stylish. He had to run hard for twos and threes on the big sluggish outfield and looked most determined to put his first Test ton together, especially after he recently missed out in the 90’s against Bangladesh. He told us after the match, “It’s nice to get the milestone of three figures and contribute to the team total. I had a bit of luck in the nineties but it felt really good out there.”

Three quick wickets by JP Duminy soon set the Black Caps back as Nicholls was followed back to the pavilion by de Grandhomme (4) and Watling (34). Nelson had struck when Watling was caught off both pads after hitting the ball downwards to make the score 222 for eight and once again the Proteas had their tails up.

A lovely bit of tail-end tonking from Jeetan Patel (17 not out) and Tim Southee (27) helped get the score over the 250 mark. The crowd certainly enjoyed the three towering sixes from the duo in an exciting moment of rear-guard action.

JP Duminy (4-47) was an unlikely candidate for pick of the bowlers at a ground where the last time five wickets fell to spinners on day one was in 1946. He bowled skilfully, using fair amounts of varying drift and a little tweak, and deserved a bit of luck on a ground where batsmen perhaps saw him as less of a threat and looked to score off him.

South Africa were faced with seven tricky new ball overs at the end of a long day and it did not take long before Southee had the struggling Stephen Cook caught in the slips. New Zealand were thrilled to still be in the game and when Dean Elgar edged de Grandhomme to the same fielder, they would have felt that they would be ending the day with the momentum.

Hashim Amla (0*) is not out with night-watchman Rabada (8*).

When asked about the fact that Cook has managed only six runs from three innings on this tour, Duminy said to us, “He is a guy that epitomises resilience – no matter what situation he finds himself in he always finds a way and I have no doubt that he will come back strong.”

South Africa will look to recover from losing their openers cheaply and will expect to put up on a lead that is superb for batting. New Zealand are without two of their best players but they don’t roll over easily. It’s game on at the Basin.

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