Dean Elgar's day as South African opener punishes Black Caps
Advantage South Africa, but New Zealand believe they still have the touring side within reach in the first cricket test after a tough opening day scrap in Dunedin.
Man of the moment Dean Elgar will resume on 128 on day two, and South Africa 229-4 at a run rate of 2.54, a mammoth recovery from 22-3.
Elgar and Temba Bavuma negotiated a tense final half-hour against Trent Boult and Neil Wagner swinging the second new ball and beating the bat, to add an unbroken 81 and leave the Black Caps two wickets short of being very happy with their day's work.
"South Africa are slightly ahead but I thought it was a very well disciplined performance with the ball and they haven't got away on us. The first hour tomorrow is going to be critical and we hopefully make use of that new ball," coach Mike Hesson said.
Elgar was outstanding, batting through the day for his seventh test century and showing all the fighting qualities he's renowned for.
But the day turned on a stroke of good fortune for him, and a rare miss by BJ Watling that will have the wicketkeeper lying awake at night.
On 36, seven balls into the middle session, Elgar tickled one fine from Boult and Watling got a decent piece of it with his right glove, but the ball tumbled out. It would have hurled South Africa onto the ropes at 63-4 and exposed the struggling Bavuma early.
"Time will tell [how much impact it has]. It was unfortunate. It would have been a bit of a strangle," Hesson said.
"We beat the outside edge a lot and when you get the inside edge, it's unfortunate and BJ grabs 99 out of 100 of those."
Five years ago in Dunedin, New Zealand skittled South Africa for 238 after sending them in.
This time both sides wanted to bat first on a strange looking pitch, dark with a patchy grass covering that dried out before the teams' very eyes as the Dunedin morning sun loomed over the hill. No team had batted first on winning the toss in the last 22 New Zealand tests.
The ball swung for Boult and offered variable bounce in the morning, before playing truer as it dried in the afternoon, the became tricky again with the second new ball.
When Neil Wagner struck twice in five balls, vital blows to remove Hashim Amla and JP Duminy in the same over, New Zealand would have been eyeing a sub-200 South Africa total.
Now they're around par and will be happy with anything over 300. As Elgar said: "350 is worth 450 on that wicket because of the slowness."
New Zealand read the pitch as slow, with minimal seam movement and wanted to bat first and give their two spinners Jeetan Patel and Mitchell Santner final use of it.
The last time New Zealand played two spinners in a home test was in March 2010 against Australia in Hamilton, Patel's previous test on home soil when he partnered Daniel Vettori.
It meant an agonising decision to omit Tim Southee for the first time since August 2012, as allrounder Jimmy Neesham came in for Colin de Grandhomme and was under-used by captain Kane Williamson. Really, Southee had to miss out as Boult remains the No 1 striker and Wagner was their best over the last 15 months.
Patel and Santner both stemmed the flow and Patel was excellent when summoned in the sixth over, generating early turn and applying immediate pressure on an impeccable line.
"It was pretty disciplined. When you play two spinners you obviously want to bowl last. They did a really good job on day one of a test match in a holding role," Hesson said.
"They can [have an impact], but it depends how well we bat in our first innings. There was certainly enough on offer on day one to suggest that later in the test match there could be a bit there."
Elgar struggled in the cold weather and cramped up near the end of his six-hour knock, after adding 126 with captain Faf du Plessis (52) who gave New Zealand a bonus wicket by falling for the leg side trap to Neesham.
"It was right up there with one of the tougher days in my career. Their bowlers are quality: Boult, Wagner and Jeetan. Given another hour we felt things might settle to open up the scoring, they bowled well on a wicket which hasn't assisted them too much, but their discipline is good," Elgar said.