Dean Elgar struck a splendid unbeaten century to take South Africa to safer shores on the opening day of the first Test against New Zealand at the University Oval in Dunedin on Wednesday (March 8).
The hosts chipped away at South Africa’s top order to reduce them to 22 for 3 early in the morning before Elgar dropped anchor and struck valuable partnerships with his skipper Faf du Plessis (52) and Temba Bavuma (38 not out) to put his team in command of the proceedings when the stumps were drawn.
Trent Boult struck early in the ninth over, after South Africa elected to bat. The left-handed pacer, who sent down nine overs in an extended opening spell, trapped a nervy Stephen Cook (3) in front of the stumps when the visitors had just 10 runs on the board. Neil Wagner, who shared the new ball with Boult, did not get any success in his opening spell but struck as soon as he returned into action after the first hour of play that saw the visitors collecting just 16 runs in as many overs.
Hashim Amla was undone by lack of footwork. The South African No. 3 attempted to drive a full delivery but left a gap wide enough between bat and pad for the ball swinging in to shatter his stumps. Off the final delivery of the same over, Wagner bounced out JP Duminy for 1. The allrounder shaped up for a pull the short ball away but decided against it at the last moment to glove it to the Ross Taylor in slips. Duminy reviewed but to no avail.
With the team reeling at 22 for 3, skipper du Plessis joined hands with the well-set Elgar for the repair work. The duo took the team past the 50-run mark and then to 63 without any further damage before heading off for the Lunch break.
South Africa’s misery could have doubled had BJ Watling held on the chance behind the stumps, in just the second over after the break, that would have sent the well-settled Elgar back into the hut. The South African opener survived and made sure New Zealand paid a heavy price for the drop. In the earlier over, Tom Latham had spilled a chance from du Plessis at short leg that could have also potentially ended the partnership immediately after the break. The pair added 85 runs in the second session before the local hero Jimmy Neesham got rid of the captain, soon after his fifty.
The South African pair battled for nearly two hours, across two sessions, to rebuild the innings after the early damage. While Elgar kept pushing the ball in the gaps to collect a boundary here and there, du Plessis played second fiddle in the 126-run stand. Their confidence grew as the wicket eased out after the first hour of play.
Elgar brought up his fifty with a beautifully timed hit to the deep square leg fence, off the bowling of Boult. Desperate to break the growing stand, Kane Williamson shuffled his bowlers form both ends in search of a wicket but didn’t have luck on his side.
Elgar raised the 100 of the partnership with a cover drive off Wagner in the 55th over that yielded 14 runs. Du Plessis’s unleashed a glorious cover drive off Mitchell Santner, a couple of overs later, to bring up his 10th Test half-century.
Williamson introduced Neesham into the attack less than half an hour from the Tea break but he failed to provide any immediate relief. Elgar took him on early and launched a flurry of boundaries to pick 12 from the over. But the joy didn’t last long. Du Plessis’s attempted pull couldn’t clear Trent Boult at the deep square leg, and Neesham had got the key breakthrough at the stroke of Tea.
At the other end, however, Elgar carried on undeterred. He came down the track to Santner and moved into his 90s with a lofted boundary over the mid-off region before Tea was called. He’s been striking the ball cleanly since overcoming a sedate start and it was only fitting that he raised his hundred – seventh in Test cricket – with a pull to deep square leg.
Temba Bavuma joined the party soon after and hit Boult for a 12-run over, including two boundaries, to get off the mark shortly after Tea. As the home side looked for another wicket, the pair build on the platform provided by the fourth-wicket stand to add 81 more to the team’s total, without getting separated.
The only brief moment that belonged to the hosts in the final session of the play were the three maidens they bowled on the trot. It took South Africa 22 balls for the single that brought up the team’s 200.
In their hunt for that elusive wicket, New Zealand took the new ball an over after it was made available but both Boult and Wagner sent down nine overs without any success. Elgar finished the day at 128 not out while Bavuma is 12 shy of what would be his fifth half-century in the format.
Brief scores: South Africa 229/4 (Dean Elgar 128*, Faf du Plessis 52; Neil Wagner 2-59) vs New Zealand.