After being outplayed for two days, New Zealand held a glimmer of hope that they could salvage the second Test as they reduced South Africa to 140 for five at stumps on day three in Christchurch on Sunday.
It gave the Proteas a lead of 211 with five wickets remaining after posting 364 in their first innings and then bowling New Zealand out for 293.
South Africa dominated the first two days but Sunday belonged to New Zealand after they were rescued from 91 for five by a 133-run stand between Colin de Grandhomme and Daryl Mitchell on the docile wicket.
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“We’re reasonably happy, not entirely happy,” said Rassie van der Dussen, adding that a lead of 270-280 would put South Africa in a strong position.
“The main thing is the ball swings, that’s the biggest challenge.”
But New Zealand believed that sort of target would be achievable.
“It’s still a good batting wicket,” said de Grandhomme, who scored a Test-best 120 not out. “If they set 270 we’ll definitely back ourselves to get it.”
De Grandhomme added there was nothing special about his innings in the conditions.
“It was a pretty good wicket so there wasn’t too much to worry about, just see the ball, hit the ball,” he said.
When South Africa started their second innings 71 runs ahead, New Zealand needed quick wickets and Tim Southee and Matt Henry obliged to have the tourists 38-3.
A Southee inswinger beat Sarel Erwee’s bat and trapped the opener in front after he had scored eight off nine deliveries.
– Maharaj breakthrough –
Southee then removed Dean Elgar who was smartly caught one-handed by wicketkeeper Tom Blundell diving in front of first slip and was gone for 13.
Aiden Markram faced 25 balls before getting off the mark and gradually advanced to 14 before Henry, on a day when the short ball had been favored, pitched up a yorker and Markram was bowled.
Van der Dussen (45) and Temba Bavuma (23) steadied the South African innings with a 65-run stand in which van der Dussen was particularly hard on Neil Wagner as New Zealand’s short-ball specialist tried to tempt the batsmen into the hook shot .
He took 13 off one Wagner over and in the process took a little gloss off what was otherwise an outstanding day for de Grandhomme.
After taking 10 runs off three balls, van der Dussen popped a straightforward chance to square leg and as Wagner began to celebrate, de Grandhomme dropped the ball.
However, Wagner won the battle five runs later when he had van der Dussen caught and bowled and followed up with the dismissal of Bavuma.
New Zealand had resumed the day at 157 for five and with de Grandhomme leading the charge they put on 136 in 35 overs with the all-rounder’s partnership with Mitchell doing much of the damage.
Elgar turned to Wiaan Mulder to snap their century stand but he lasted one over after de Grandhomme smacked back-to-back fours which led to the introduction of Keshav Maharaj.
Mitchell had looked comfortable against the pace bowlers but was less certain against Maharaj’s spin.
After edging one ball short of the sole slip, he played outside the line to the next and was trapped plumb in front.
Kagiso Rabada and Marco Jansen mopped up the tail with Rabada taking five for 60 and Jansen four for 98.