South Africa surge ahead

Some inspired early bowling, a pitch which has been becoming less seam-friendly virtually from the opening delivery of the match, two resolute innings and a crucial dropped catch combined to put South Africa in a commanding position on the second day of the First Test against New Zealand at The Wanderers. With three days remaining the hosts lead by 287 runs, 8 second-innings wickets still standing. New Zealand had started the day two down but with high hopes of going past South Africa’s 226 and putting huge pressure on them in the second dig. It did not work-out, however, and they now need something close to a miracle to work their way back into the game.

The South African seamers produced an outstanding performance to bundle New Zealand out in the morning and early part of the afternoon sessions. Dale Steyn turned-in the first truly impressive first-innings performance of his career: having already trapped Craig Cumming the previous evening and been decidedly unfortunate not to get the lbw of Stephen Fleming, he wasted little time in dismissing the nightwatchman Shane Bond. A pinpoint yorker crashed into the base of middle-and-off, giving South Africa just the start they would have hoped for.

Soon after, Makhaya Ntini grabbed the prize wicket of Fleming, who had flashed his way to a 48-ball 40 with help from that lbw let-off. In classic manner, he slid one across the left-hander, an action-replay of so many of his dismissals from the last 3 or 4 years, and Fleming nicked one low to AB de Villiers at third-slip who took his second excellent catch of the innings. Once Fleming was dismissed, the South African bowlers were able to attain a complete stranglehold, as Steyn, Ntini and Andre Nel maintained a perfect line just outside the off-stump. They could not break through, however, and it took the introduction of Jacques Kallis to really send the wickets clattering.

Scott Styris, who had struggled, being hit on the head once, finally attempted to force through the off, and succeeded only in nicking a catch into the bucket hands of Graeme Smith at first-slip. Jacob Oram did not last long, falling to yet another superb catch, this time from Kallis at second-slip off another one from Steyn which slid across the left-hander. Kallis got in on the act again just before lunch, as Ross Taylor attempted to flash a wide delivery through the off-side, and hit it straight to Herschelle Gibbs at gully. New Zealand lunched at 97 for 7, but with Daniel Vettori’s batting form so far on tour would have felt that all was not quite yet lost.

Unfortunately for the new captain, he could not transfer his form from the tour-games into the Tests this innings, and in the opening over after lunch got a leading-edge to a good-length delivery from Steyn, which went straight to Paul Harris at wide mid-on. Iain O’Brien flayed his way irresponsibly to a 7-ball 14, making Ntini’s figures look far more ordinary than they should have, but Steyn trapped McCullum in front of off-stump and helped himself to Chris Martin’s wicket as he chipped one up to mid-wicket where Harris again took as easy a catch as anyone will ever be offered. The whippy Titans seamer had his 4th Test five-wicket haul, beating his previous best by 13 runs, and playing the leading role in bowling-out the tourists for a paltry 118.

The Kiwis struck back with the new-ball, however: Shane Bond followed a series of inswingers, most of which Herschelle Gibbs left, with one that went straight on, which he hung his bat a long way outside off-stump at, and edged to Michael Papps, who this time made no mistake, after dropping Kallis in the first-innings. Soon after, Bond extracted an edge from Amla which necessitated a dive from McCullum. He got both hands on it, but failed to cling on – the chance was no sitter, but one the wicketkeeper would expect to swallow every time. Martin then snuck a yorker from around the wicket past Graeme Smith’s bat as the South African captain played down the wrong line, and had McCullum held the chance from Amla the hosts may well have been 20 for 3.

The McCullum drop, however, grew in significance as the day wore on. When the ball stopped swinging, Bond slipped onto the bat easily; O’Brien struggled for length; and Vettori could not find any spin and was played beautifully by Amla and Kallis who drove him through the off several times in his opening overs, forcing him to adopt an over-the-wicket line. None of the seamers could find any reverse-swing until O’Brien got a few to do a little very late on, and while there were occasional vagaries in bounce the seamers did not bowl straight enough to exploit this. One exception was when Kallis was struck on the helmet by a short ball from Martin that did not climb as he expected, but he brushed this aside in his usual unperturbed manner and continued to look virtually impregnable. The Kiwis thought they had him on 55 when a short delivery from O’Brien hit him and looped up to McCullum. Umpire Daryl Harper shook his head, however, and replays, while not 100% conclusive, appeared to show the ball hitting shoulder rather than glove. Harper turned down another appeal from the same bowler against the same batsman shortly after, and again was backed by the cameras.

Of further concern to the tourists will be the fact that former captain Fleming did not take the field – having missed the second tour-game with a bruised thumb, he suffered further injury – X-ray results are still awaited – when he was struck on the forearm by Steyn in the 20th over of New Zealand’s innings. Lou Vincent, who substituted for him, was often his side’s leading light in the field, making several brilliant stops, but Fleming’s participation in the Second Test must now be in doubt, as must his ability to make a genuine contribution in the second-innings – what seems likely to be a colossal chase.

South Africa 226
Herschelle Gibbs 63, Mark Boucher 43
Shane Bond 4-73

New Zealand 118
Stephen Fleming 40
Dale Steyn 5-34, Makhaya Ntini 3-47

South Africa 179 for 2
Hashim Amla 85*, Jacques Kallis 76*

South Africa lead by 287 runs with 8 wickets remaining in second-innings

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