South Africa 220 for 6 (de Swardt 55*, Bedingham 39, Ravindra 3-33) vs New Zealand

Ruan de Swardt and Shaun von Berg dug deep to pull South Africa out of a hole on a typically attritional day of Test cricket. New Zealand’s seamers prised out the top-order batters and were economical. Rachin Ravindra found purchase and dismantled the middle order but the numbers 7 and 8 were resilient saw off 27 overs in the extended final session.

The day started with captain Neil Brand springing a surprise at the toss by batting first on a grassy pitch and going with two spinners. “All the wickets have been green and it tends to burn off after a couple of days,” he said. South Africa, repeating their feat from 2017, are the only side to have done it in the last ten years at Hamilton.

In contrast, New Zealand went with four seamers, including captain Tim Southee, who said he’d have bowled first if they’d won the toss. The hosts brought in Will Young in place of the injured Daryl Mitchell. Neil Wagner came in for Mitchell Santner, and William O’Rourke was handed a debut as Kyle Jamieson pulled up sore after the first Test.

Clyde Fortuin’s promotion to the top didn’t pay off as he bagged a golden duck. He flashed on the up against Matt Henry and Glenn Phillips took a one-handed stunner at gully. Henry troubled the batters with seam movement and Southee found swing but Brand and Raynard van Tonder left the ball confidently and weren’t bogged down by the ball occasionally beating them.

Brand capitalised on overpitched balls with aesthetically pleasing punches through the offside. O’Rourke, the debutant brought on in the ninth over, was at the receiving end a couple of times, but he got a length ball to nip back past the inside edge and pin the skipper in front of middle.

Zubayr Hamza started cautiously and was given lbw when he shouldered arms to a length ball angling in Neil Wagner’s first over. Hamza reviewed successfully with ball tracking suggesting that it would go over the stumps.

Hamza was resolute in defence but couldn’t rotate strike. Southee and Wagner held onto their discipline and gave away just five runs between the 21st and the 25th over. Wagner then telegraphed the short-ball plan by pushing the fielders to the deep on the leg side. He hit the deck, angled it outside off and got spongy bounce off the pitch but van Tonder couldn’t ride the bounce and ended up fending it to Tom Latham at gully. The third wicket tilted the session in the hosts’ favour.

The second session played out like an exercise in psychology as David Bedingham and Hamza were ready to blunt out the bowling despite the runs coming to a standstill. Henry and O’Rourke held their lines and lengths, Ravindra, brought on in the 36th over, started his spell with four maidens.

The ball was beating bat every now and again and the shots, when middled, went straight to the fielders. From overs 31 to 44, South Africa scored 12 runs and the duo collectively had 33 runs in 154 balls.

However, two overs later, Hamza’s patience was swiped across the line, as was the loopy wide ball from Ravindra, and – out of nowhere – Hamza holed out to backward point for a 99-ball 20. Ravindra then extended Keegan Petersen’s poor run of form by having him push out at a length ball and caught at slip.

It was a case of dots or boundaries from then till tea but de Swardt’s proactivity followed by solidity in defence was a rare positive that South Africa could take from a frustrating session.

At the other end, Bedingham looked assured and even capitalised on a couple of rare instances where Ravindra dropped it short. The action-packed 62nd over took South Africa to 150, brought Bedingham two fours, but also ended with his freak dismissal. He flicked a full ball seemingly onto the ground and straight into the hands of Young at short leg. Young tossed the ball to the keeper, who dislodged the bails. An appeal for run out was sent upstairs by the umpire only for the spin-vision replay to reveal that the ball never hit the ground, and went to Young off Bedingham’s boot. So, Bedingham had to walk back after another start.

Von Berg, the fifth-oldest player to make a Test debut for South Africa, was particularly tentative at the start of his innings. He looked for a couple of sharp singles to get off the mark but was sent back. He survived a close lbw call in the 68th over off Wagner, where the third umpire felt the ball hit bat and pad simultaneously.

His confidence grew gradually, dispatching a couple of short balls from O’Rourke to the boundary and settled in as the soft, old ball lost its spite. De Swardt, at the other end, was steady.

New Zealand took the new ball right after the 80th over. Southee induced an edge from von Berg but the ball went over the slip cordon for four and brought up South Africa’s 200. Southee and Henry were taken for boundaries on the odd occasion they went too full but they hit a good length more often than not.

Southee hit von Berg’spad with no shot offered in the 85th over. It was given not out and the skipper ended up burning a review as Hawk-Eye showed that the ball would comfortably go over the stumps. In his next over, Southee hit de Swardt in the box. The batter was down but that was all the blows South Africa would face for the rest of the day.

The green on the pitch had gotten significantly lighter by the end of the day. The visitors will be happy that their inexperienced line-up clawed back despite having their resistance shaken. But the hosts ensured the scoring was always in check and will be pleased with spinners being among the wickets at home in successive Tests.

Ekanth is a sub-editor with ESPNcricinfo



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