Battered but unbowed, New Zealand's openers return today for round two against South Africa's pacemen after putting their bowlers' struggles in context on the Basin Reserve tarmac.
Daniel Flynn and Martin Guptill saw off a tense 25 overs from South Africa's four-pronged pace attack on the third afternoon of the third test, and will resume today at 65-0 in reply to the tourists' 474-9 declared.
It's small steps for this batting lineup, and an opening session barrage looms, but it offered hope for an honourable draw in an unwinnable test; South Africa are in control at 1-0 up in the series. Just nine wickets fell in the first three days, another 20 need to tumble in the remaining 196 overs for a result. The bookmakers have the draw as the overwhelming favourite.
Curator Brett Sipthorpe's preparation was stymied by the rain, and the pitch emerged as a batsman's dream, lacking its usual pace. It made hometown boy Mark Gillespie's career-best 6-113 more impressive as the home bowlers toiled for 149 overs, after South African opener Alviro Petersen dug in for 503 minutes for his 156.
"It [the pitch] flirts and you think it's going to offer something at the start but it doesn't really, and it gets flat pretty quick. It's pretty tough to bowl on," Gillespie said.
Flynn emerged from his first test innings in 27 months with credit, although the job's not over. Promoted from the middle order, he took four body blows and was unbeaten on 35. Morne Morkel worked him over.
An inside edge on four was half-gloved by Mark Boucher.
Flynn then lined up the series standout, Vernon Philander. He clipped him past a diving Dale Steyn for four, then clouted one almost to the Cricket Wellington offices. Figures of 6-0-30-0 and Philander appears a mere mortal after all.
Guptill (28 not out) worked hard after a lean trot. New Zealand's series opening stands were 7, 16, 11 and 1, so this was significant.
A handy crowd basked in a sunny Sunday, but after two hours might have had second thoughts about parting with their hard-earned $20.
Petersen and JP Duminy (103) built their partnership to 200 as captain Ross Taylor quickly went into run-saving mode. Daniel Vettori blocked up one end after the pacemen created little excitement down breeze with the new ball.
Gillespie was chosen to make things happen, and suddenly the intensity stepped up, fresh from his 5-59 in Hamilton. Bowling around the wicket and attacking left-hander Duminy's off stump worked, then he charged in with venom to finally expose South Africa's tail.
Post-lunch was New Zealand's first winning session as the tourists lost 4-75. Chris Martin looked to be struggling on his run-up but produced two big wickets. Petersen missed one angling into him, then AB de Villiers (38) chopped on.
Petersen, in his 13th test, notched his third century. He offered one chance, on 68 when Guptill dived full length at second slip off Doug Bracewell. Under pressure for his spot with a highest score of 29 from four New Zealand innings, Petersen relished the conditions.
"The wicket played really nicely and it looks like a good wicket now. What we can do is try to build a lot of pressure on them. We've seen in this whole series, once they're two or three down then things could happen for us."
Meanwhile, South African batsman Hashim Amla will sit out the test after sustaining "blunt trauma to his groin region" from a Martin delivery on Friday. He underwent exploratory surgery but is expected to make a full recovery.
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