Dean Elgar made an unbeaten 128 laced with 22 boundaries to lift South Africa out of trouble and into a commanding position at stumps Wednesday on the first day of the first Test against New Zealand.
Opener Elgar carried his bat for his seventh test century and shared partnerships of 148 for the fourth wicket with Faf du Plessis (52) and 81, unbroken, for the fifth with Temba Bavnuma (38) to lead South Africa to 229-4 after it had slumped to 22-3.
His was an innings of contrasts, compiled with studied care and patience over 358 minutes and from 262 deliveries but also including abnormally high proportion of boundaries: 88 runs from fours which exhibited the full range of his shot play.
South Africa was able to steadily rebuild its innings through the day after Neil Wagner and Trent Boult had combined to remove Stephen Cook (3), Hashim Amla (1) and J.P. Duminy (1) by the 19th over.
Boult first dismissed Cook with a classic example of late swing when the batsman thought it safe to leave the ball outside off stump only to see it duck back late and trap him lbw.
Then Wagner produced a brilliant double, dismissing Amla and Duminy in the same over. He bowled Amla with a full delivery which swung back between bat and pad.
Duminy was then undone with a bouncer which reared steeply, took the batsman by surprise and caused him instinctively to sway backwards. He left his bat in its path and it glanced off glove and onto his helmet before flying to Ross Taylor at first slip.
At that point, du Plessis had every cause to believe he had mis-read the pitch and made an error in choosing to bat first. Boult and Wagner looked almost unplayable and the veteran spinner Jeetan Patel, introduced in only the sixth over, tied down run ends and reduced the run rate to a trickle.
New Zealand made the stunning decision shortly before the start of play to drop its senior fast bowler Tim Southee _ Man of the Match in two of its previous home tests this series _ and go instead with only two specialist seamers and the spinners Patel and Mitchell Santner.
It was a decision which seemed to have been justified early on and might yet be as the pitch wears and becomes slower. But Elgar’s innings may have changed some the balance.
Boult bowled superbly, finishing with 1-40 from 20 overs and Wagner, giving the rare chance to take the new ball, had 2-55 from 18. Patel bowled without luck and finished with 0-60 from 24.
Allrounder James Neesham made a rare appearance at the bowling crease and supported his inclusion at the expense of Colin de Grandhomme with the wicket of du Plessis.
“Obviously there wasn’t a whole lot of help in the wicket laterally and there wasn’t a whole lot of bounce either,” Neesham said. “But I thought we stuck at it pretty well and to keep them to 229 over the course of the day with only four down probably reflects it was a decent effort.”