Final push for Black Caps in hope of sparking victory charge after Kane Williamson's brilliant batting quells South Africa
New Zealand are holding out for one crazy Saturday session to spark an unlikely first cricket test victory over South Africa, after more Kane Williamson batting mastery left a glimmer of hope.
And going by Friday's bizarre events at Dunedin's University Oval, which was shrouded by mist soon after stumps with weekend rain approaching, few would be surprised by one more wacky twist.
First innings centurymaker Dean Elgar and Hashim Amla resume on day four 38-1 in their second innings, a lead of just five after the Black Caps claimed overall honours for a second successive day.
That was largely thanks to Williamson whose wonderful 130 set the base for New Zealand's 341 and a lead of 33. It was his 16th test century, equalling team-mate Ross Taylor's tally and one behind Martin Crowe's record.
Taylor also played his part with a torn right calf muscle which has his series in doubt, with a decision to be delayed till Sunday. He returned with a limp at the ninth wicket to swing from the hip and be 15 not out after BJ Watling's half-century and Neil Wagner's blazing 32 off 32 balls saw them hit the front.
The weather and pitch stand in the way of a result, and look likely send the series to Wellington at 0-0 and the Black Caps with fortified confidence, even the hint of a swagger.
Light rain is forecast for Dunedin on Saturday, and more of it on Sunday. The pitch remained slow, with something it in with the new ball and occasional assistance for spinners as South African left-armer Keshav Maharaj showed with his first test five-bag (5-94 off 28.3 overs).
Still, it's not turning and spitting as much as the Black Caps need, yet, with their spinners Jeetan Patel and Mitchell Santner bowling 10 wicketless overs between them in the gloom and needing to spark something in the morning.
"It's a bit of a grind out there. It's not a free-flowing wicket as such and they bowled really well," said Watling, whose 50 off 128 balls was his first test half-century in 14 innings.
"Hopefully we come out in the morning and pick up an early couple of poles and put them under some pressure. The game's sitting 50-50 and a crazy session might change that."
There was plenty of craziness already, starting with a temperature drop which saw umpires Kumar Dharmasena and Bruce Oxenford call for warm gloves.
Some good crowd energy on the hill was quelled by heavy handed security evicting punters for the crime of drinking their beer too fast. South African paceman Morne Morkel joined the fun, responding to the crowd's "scull" chant by downing his water on the boundary and earning their hero worship.
Then, a fire alarm in the main stand saw everyone evacuated from the ground and a 20-minute delay before the Fire Service gave the green light. It took the sting out of one and all, after New Zealand made a flying start with Stephen Cook's wicket fourth ball from Trent Boult, even when replays showed he nicked his pad rather than ball.
If the afternoon became ridiculous, Williamson was sublime. His test batting record as skipper extended to 900 runs at an average of 60 in perhaps his most important captain's knock.
Resuming on 78 and carrying extra burden with Taylor undergoing a scan, Williamson defended stoutly and added five runs in the first hour. He took 27 balls to score his first run.
Then he unleashed with some textbook straight drives, hitting three figures off 195 balls and batting six and a half hours. He and Watling added the crucial sixth wicket stand of 84.
"He's doing a fantastic job. He's always been scoring runs and it was a fantastic innings," Watling said. "To get through that tough period when they were bowling really nicely and the ball was reversing, you could just see his class and he soaked it up and scored a lot more freely after that. It was a great innings and we needed it badly."
South Africa were good with the ball; Morkel hostile at times and Kagiso Rabada warming to his task and may be a handful in Wellington.
Jimmy Neesham was dismissed controversially for seven, caught behind. Replays showed Morkel's front foot behind the line on one angle, but on another camera shot it looked a no ball. Third umpire Rod Tucker gave Morkel the benefit of the doubt which was the right decision, but offered more reason for punters to scratch their heads on an equally absorbing but bizarre day's cricket.
AT A GLANCE
New Zealand's leading test centurymakers:
17 - Martin Crowe (77 tests, 5444 runs at 45.36)
16 - Kane Williamson (59* tests, 4937 runs at 50.89)
16 - Ross Taylor (81* tests, 6023 runs at 47.05)
12 - Brendon McCullum (101 tests, 6453 runs at 38.64)
12 - John Wright (82 tests, 5334 runs at 37.82)