New Zealand let South Africa off the hook in more ways than one as a promising start became another home team benefit in the second cricket test.
Thanks to Hashim Amla's 19th est century, 106 not out, South Africa posted 325-4 to claim the honours on the first day at St George's Park after winning the toss.
New Zealand will rue a crucial dropped chance of Amla on 48, a difficult offering to Kane Williamson, and an apparent blunder when they didn't challenge a caught behind decision off Faf du Plessis on 42. Hot spot replays later showed he gloved a Trent Boult delivery but captain Brendon McCullum didn't request the decision review system after umpire Ian Gould turned down the appeal.
Du Plessis was 69 not out at stumps as he and Amla added an unbroken 102 in 19 overs. It was Amla's fourth century against New Zealand as he reached the milestone off 187 balls, including eight boundaries.
Trailing 1-0 in the two-match series, New Zealand bowled well in patches, with Doug Bracewell (2-70) leading the way but didn't apply pressure for long enough. Too many loose deliveries went for four. With one change from their Newlands attack - Neil Wagner in for Chris Martin - they kept South Africa in check for periods before the hosts put the foot down in the final session.
Theories abounded as to what do at the toss. The pitch looked barren, with patches of green, and the suggestion a fungus had killed some of the grass.
McCullum called incorrectly and admitted he would have bowled first if he'd won. Hardly surprising, after their capitulation for 45 in Cape Town.
Bracewell made the early inroads, right from his seventh delivery when he pinned opposing skipper Graeme Smith a nasty blow on the side of the head.
A year ago Bracewell was New Zealand's test bowling kingpin but in recent months he's struggled. From his previous five tests, in India, Sri Lanka and Cape Town, he snared just six wickets at 80.5.
Bracewell grabbed the first wicket, thanks to a loose hook shot from Alviro Petersen, while Smith was never comfortable. He edged Wagner twice in front of the slips, and nicked another from Boult through third man for four.
Boult was off target in his first spell, slightly better in his second and couldn't buy any luck. Wagner was more impressive early, making a lively start and creating half chances off Amla and Smith, although there were too many four balls.
South Africa looked set at 99-1 at lunch but Smith (54) used up all his lives and gave Wagner a deserved wicket, nicked down the leg side.
The great Jacques Kallis then drove loosely at Bracewell and touched a bottom edge and suddenly New Zealand were right in it at 137-3.
Catches win matches and Williamson has clung onto some screamers at gully, particularly in New Zealand's win over Sri Lanka in Colombo.
But he shelled Amla on 48 when he cut hard at Boult, a tough chance but one that should have been taken. It would have made it 152-4, and was a vital turning point.
Debutant Colin Munro weighed in with some tidy medium pace but the game drifted as Amla and AB de Villiers played comfortably, the latter passing 6000 runs and their fourth wicket partnership worth 86. The St George's Park brass band were in full flight and the medium-sized crowd, watching Port Elizabeth's first test in over five years, found their voice.
Enter Jeetan Patel, the off-spinner who got McCullum's backing on test eve when it seemed left-armer Bruce Martin was a royal chance of playing.
The ball began to turn and bounce, in the final session, an ominous sign for when New Zealand bat last against spin, although Robin Peterson is handy rather than terrifying.
Patel found his line and lured de Villiers (51) out of his crease as he chipped a catch to a relieved Williamson. Then new man du Plessis got a let-off when Patel found the edge, it glanced off gloveman BJ Watling and fell just short of McCullum at slip.
Another from Patel turned sharply at du Plessis and bounced over the stumps, beating everyone.
Du Plessis kept riding his luck, survived the non-challenge of the caught behind off Boult then celebrated by crashing Bracewell over the mid-wicket boundary for six to register South Africa's fourth half-century of the day.
Scoreboard at close on the first day of the second test between South Africa and New Zealand at St George's Park in Port Elizabeth. South Africa won the toss and elected to bat
A Petersen c Patel b Bracewell 21
G Smith c Watling b Wagner 54
H Amla not out 106
J Kallis c Watling b Bracewell 8
AB de Villiers c Williamson b Patel 51
F du Plessis not out 69
Extras (b-5, lb-6, w-2, nb-3) 16
Total (for four wickets; 90 overs) 325
Fall of wickets: 1-29, 2-121. 137-3, 4-223
Bowling: Boult 19-2-74-0 (w-1), Bracewell 21-2-70-2 (w-1), Wagner 22-2-88-1 (nb-3), Patel 19-1-60-1, Munro 9-0-22-0.
- Fairfax Media
Should the NZ selectors pick Jesse Ryder if he's available?