Elgar, Du Plessis fifties put South Africa 191 ahead

Riding on half-centuries from Dean Elgar and Faf du Plessis, South Africa ended Day 4 of the Dunedin Test 191 runs ahead of New Zealand in their second innings,on Saturday(March 11). Four dropped chances and two DRS howlers summed up a rather abysmal day for the hosts.

Elgar continued from where he had left off in the first innings and stroked a fine 89, albeit gifted with three lives on the way. Giving him company at the other end were JP Duminy (40) and skipper du Plessis (56 not out) who forged valuable stands to put their side in a comfortable position.

Action resumed on Day 4 after a 40-minute delay due to an early morning drizzle. Another brief interruption followed due to bad light, 20 minutes into the game, but the home side had had a breakthrough by then. Under the cloudy skies, both Hashim Amla and Elgar tread with caution but the former could add only one more to his overnight score before Neil Wagner struck in his second over. The South Africa No. 3 flicked one straight to Tim Southee, the substitute fielder at short midwicket.

Wagner had made early inroads but the home side could not build on it. Batting on six, Duminy edged one from Trent Boult to first slip, where Tom Latham – filling in for the injured Ross Taylor – fluffed the regulation catch. Elgar got his first reprieve on 35, when BJ Watling could not hold on to the low offering, denying James Neesham his first wicket of the day.

If that wasn’t enough, their two DRS reviews were lost due to impulsive calls. Boult and Kane Williamson went for a review of an on-field not-out call for LBW against Duminy, only to discover that the impact was outside off. In the 40th over, Duminy got an inside edge onto his pad but surprisingly the home side reviewed again, losing their second referral in the process. By the time Lunch was called, South Africa had exactly 100 on the board and a lead of 67.

Duminy’s luck finally ran out on 40, shortly into the second session of the day. Wagner was at it again as he trapped the South African allrounder in front of the stumps to put an end to their partnership. Duminy called for a review, but to no avail. Once again, that was the solitary wicket the hosts managed in the post-Lunch session with South Africa comfortably stretching their lead into triple figures. At the forefront was Elgar, dropped twice again.

The South African opener, who hit a fine century in the first innings, was batting on 48 when the substitute fielder Colin de Grandhomme shelled a straightforward catch at short midwicket, allowing Elgar to bring up his sixth Test half-century with a couple. Du Plessis, on the other hand, seemed to be in no hurry and got off the mark only with the 14th delivery he faced. The captain later took his side’s lead past hundred with a boundary off Boult.

Mitchell Santner was the next to join the list of unfortunate bowlers who had been denied a wicket due to shoddy ground fielding, after Neesham at first slip failed pouch an offering from Elgar when on 66. At the stroke of Tea, when Watling finally caught one, Elgar’s immediate review added to New Zealand’s woes as the replays confirmed the bat had kissed his pad instead of the bat. On-field umpire Kumar Dharamasena had to overturn his decision and Elgar went on to make 89.

Jeetan Patel led a comeback of sorts for the home side in the final session of the day with two key wickets. With Boult off the field due to a groin strain, New Zealand resisted the new ball for a couple of overs. By then, however, the light had deteriorated and Williamson brought on spin from both ends. Elgar stepped out to Patel but failed to clear the New Zealand skipper at mid-off to depart 11 short of what would have been a rare feat of twin hundreds in a Test.

Temba Bavuma lasted 23 deliveries and contributed six before Santner cleaned him up to open his account. Du Plessis, who had played second fiddle to Elgar thus far, took charge and brought up his half-century with midwicket boundary off Wagner in the 97th over. Patel came back into the attack in the next over and sent Quinton de Kock packing for six. Vernon Philander and du Plessis played out four more overs in deteriorating light to take their lead to 191 before the umpires decided to call it a day.

Had New Zealand fielders held on to those many chances, the shape of the game would have been entirely different. But, for now, the ball is in South Africa’s court. With a strong possibility of rain playing spoilsport on the final day, the visitors have a quick decision to make. How much lead is too much lead?

Brief scores: South Africa 308 & 224/6 (Dean Elgar 89, Faf du Plessis 56*; Neil Wagner 2-57; Jeetan Patel 2-72) lead New Zealand 341 by 191 runs.

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