Intriguing start to series

After a day in which momentum shifted frequently from one team to the other, the first test between New Zealand and South Africa at Centurion is evenly poised at stumps on the first day.

South Africa had a boost and New Zealand quite the opposite before a ball was bowled, with South African captain Graeme Smith returning to the side after missing the final test against Australia with injury while Shane Bond was once again reduced to a spectator?s role, with the knee injury he picked up on the first day of the warm-up match in Benoni keeping him out of action.

Smith?s return at the expense of Jacques Rudolph was one of two changes to the South African team from that which played in their last test, with the other being the inexperienced Dale Steyn?s somewhat surprising selection in Andre Nel?s place.

South Africa won the toss and chose to bat, a decision which went against the recent trend of bowling first at Centurion. And it seemed to be the wrong decision, as with the score on 16 Bond?s replacement Kyle Mills went through the defences of Herschelle Gibbs, clipping the top of off stump and sending Gibbs off the field for just six.

But that was the only wicket before lunch as Smith and Boeta Dippenaar built a promising partnership for the second wicket. An initially slow run rate was boosted in the second hour before lunch and when the session came to an end the score was 85-1, with Smith on 41 and Dippenaar 31.

New Zealand would have been hoping to get an early wicket to slow South Africa?s rapidly rising momentum, while both batsmen would have been looking at a 100 partnership and individual half-centuries. But it was the former that turned out to be the case, Smith falling LBW to James Franklin for 45, making the score 95-2.

But that brought Jacques Kallis to the crease and no real loss of momentum as Dippenaar moved through to his seventh test half-century. However, immediately afterwards he hit a ball from Mills straight to Peter Fulton at midwicket and the score was 118-3.

Ashwell Prince was the next man in, surviving an inside edge that went desperately close to his off-stump as he patiently made his way to 9 before Mills got a much-deserved third wicket, Scott Styris taking the catch. Mills had been by far New Zealand?s best bowler in the first two sessions, doing a fairly decent job of filling in for Shane Bond. At the other end, Kallis was playing every bit as patiently as Prince did, taking 49 balls to reach double figures with eight of his first ten runs coming from two fours.

Once he’d reached the double figure mark he sped up though, lifting his score and strike rate into the 30s. The score reached 177-4 and both Kallis and AB de Villiers looked to be playing ominously well. Kallis looked to be preparing to celebrate his 100th test in impressive style. But then, immediately after being welcomed back to the attack with a four, Franklin ended Kallis’s 38 with a perfect yorker which hit the bottom of middle stump.

Not long afterwards, his partner de Villiers fell the same way, also after making a start. This time the ball from Franklin pitched on leg and hit off stump, an almost unplayable ball which certainly put an end to the 27-run innings from de Villiers.

It was an interesting day for Franklin. The most expensive of the New Zealand bowlers used, some of the balls he bowled were absolutely incredible balls that the best bowlers in test history would be pleased with, while the rest of the time he was regularly missing both line and length and being punished accordingly.

Mark Boucher and Shaun Pollock ensured that yet another promising partnership started to develop, reaching 32 runs before the new ball worked perfectly for New Zealand, Boucher edging a ball from Chris Martin to a diving Stephen Fleming in the slip cordon for 18. And then in the next over Pollock followed for 24, the catch being taken by Styris to give Mills his fourth wicket on an amazing day, especially considering the fact that 24 hours ago he was unsure as to whether he’d even play. This left the score at 233-8.

Nicky Boje and Dale Steyn provided an entertaining close to an entertaining day’s play, striking many boundaries in a partnership that was cruising along at a rate of more than five runs per over.

When stumps were drawn, the score stood at 266-8, with Boje on 20 and Steyn on 8. It was an even and absorbing contest on the first day, and if this was any indication of what is to come we are in for some enthralling cricket in this series.

South Africa 266-8
Boeta Dippenaar 52, Jacques Kallis 38
Kyle Mills 4-43, James Franklin 3-67

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