South Africa 349 for 9 (De Kock 91, Bavuma 89, Philander 36*, Morkel 31*, de Grandhomme 3-33) lead New Zealand 268 by 81 runs
South Africa were taken from the potential of a significant deficit to a substantial lead by a rollicking seventh-wicket stand of 160 between Temba Bavuma and Quinton de Kock on the second day in Wellington. They transformed a pre-lunch position of 94 for 6 with the most dominant batting of the series to date and, although both fell short of hundreds, South Africa closed with a lead of 81 after the last-wicket pair added further frustration for New Zealand.
While the South African pair batted superbly, New Zealand will ponder how things raced away at such a rate after they had managed to rumble the top order during the morning session. Colin de Grandhomme, who finished with 3 for 52, claimed the key duo of Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis while Neil Wagner continued JP Duminy’s frustrating tour. From the lowest ebb of South Africa’s innings the last four wickets managed to amass 255 runs from 65 overs.
Both first innings followed similar patters: New Zealand had recovered from 101 for 5 through a stand of 116 between Henry Nicholls and BJ Watling on the opening day. As the ball grew older, the bowlers struggled to keep control, knocked back by the aggression shown by de Kock who won his little duel with Jeetan Patel for first time on the tour. Crucially, Patel could not strike or provide control for Kane Williamson while South Africa recovered as he conceded five-an-over in his first 10 overs.
The gamesmanship card had been played when de Kock arrived in the middle shortly before lunch as Patel was given the last over of the session to target the man he had removed in the previous four innings. This time, despite the occasional hairy moment as de Kock refused to be dominated, he came through either side of lunch and then started to cut loose against the quicks.
He upper cut Tim Southee over the slips for six and hooked Wagner onto the grass banks. At one stage, as he negotiated Patel, de Kock had 17 off 33 balls but then skipped to his half-century from 55 deliveries as the mood of the day swung back to South Africa. The short-pitched approach did not fluster him – it was arguably over-done – and Kane Williamson was soon on the retreat – a packed slip cordon replaced by scouts on the boundary.
When Patel returned for a second spell before tea, de Kock skipped down the pitch and deposited him straight down the ground. No doubt about the winner this time. He was nine away from a fourth Test hundred when he pushed out at a delivery from James Neesham, who produced a wholehearted burst shortly before the new ball, at a time when New Zealand were looking a little short of ideas.
Bavuma took a backseat once de Kock found his stride after coming through an early trial from the short ball. He had one fortunate moment when he spliced a pull which lobbed over mid-on as de Grandhomme lost his footing. As the afternoon progressed, having batting in de Kock’s slipstream, he became far more assured and moved to his fifty from 88 balls.
His off-side driving, off front and back foot, was especially eye-catching and a significant moment – a first overseas century – was on the horizon when he got underneath a pull and found deep square leg. But having come into the tour under a modicum of scrutiny, after a lean series against Sri Lanka, it has been a resounding response from Bavuma following his half-century in Dunedin. However, New Zealand could not wrap things up swiftly as Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel added an unbroken 47 for the last wicket, which included a concerning moment when Morkel took a blow on the helmet from Southee but he managed to finish four short of his best Test score.
How South Africa needed the recovery act. They had resumed on 24 for 2 with both openers already dismissed and Kagiso Rabada, the nightwatchman, soon joined them when Southee swung one through him in his first over. It did not take Wagner long to strengthen New Zealand’s position when, with his seventh ball of the day, and first to JP Duminy, he claimed him for the third time in the series courtesy of a loose flick which picked out midwicket.
De Grandhomme then followed Southee after an eight-over spell with success coming almost immediately when Amla, still struggling to find his best form, could barely believe he had picked out midwicket against a delivery on his pads he would normally ease away for runs. Henry Nicholls, the star of the opening day for New Zealand, could not take the catch at the first attempt but was able to grab the rebound: when things run your way, make the most of them.
Faf du Plessis appeared keen to try and wrestle back the situation with aggression – top-edging Wagner for six when he was not in control of the pull – and shortly before lunch inside-edged a drive against de Grandhomme with BJ Watling taking a low catch. At that stage even parity was a long way off, but in a series that has produced six days of counterpunches, South Africa threw the latest of them. It could be a decisive one.
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo