TELFORD VICE at University Oval
WHAT you see is not what you get in Dunedin, where the first test between New Zealand and South Africa turned slowly and subtly on its axis on Thursday.
Don’t be fooled by all the sunshine you could see on your television: anyone not from these parts who was at University Oval wore at least more than one layer of clothing.
Don’t be surprised that, despite the lack of overhead heat, a pitch that started out all wet and sticky on Wednesday – and accordingly was difficult to bat on – dried into a sound surface.
And do not for a moment think either side have the edge, not with New Zealand going to stumps on 177/3 in reply to South Africa’s first innings of 308.
The visitors will know that only too well, having lost their last six wickets for 56 runs.
But the Kiwis, even though Kane Williamson is well set on 78 not out, won’t be completely confident of scoring the 133 they need to earn parity – especially as Ross Taylor has been removed from the equation by a calf injury.
Dean Elgar and Temba Bavuma resumed with their fifth-wicket stand worth 81, and built it to 104 before a Neil Wagner bouncer hurried Elgar into a stroke he didn’t have to play midway through the morning session.
The ball looped off the horizontal edge to wicketkeeper BJ Watling, ending Elgar’s effort at a career-best 140 – a performance that rebuilt an innings that had listed at 22/3 on Wednesday.
That started the slide, and South Africa were dismissed in the fifth over after lunch with Trent Boult and Wagner sharing seven wickets and Jeetan Patel keeping the pressure firmly on for his return of 2/85 from 33 overs.
Bavuma needed an innings of substance to quell the criticism that had gathered around like malevolent clouds, and he responded with a sturdy 64, his first half-century in eight test innings.
But South Africa will wonder how they left so many runs out there in the insipid sunshine.
Among the answers is that Patel would seem to have the measure of Quinton de Kock, who has fallen to the off-spinner in both matches the latter played in the one-day series.
On Thursday Patel had a driving De Kock caught at backward point for 10.
Vernon Philander made the most of what he could find in the pitch in his opening spell of six overs, which yielded 11 runs and with them the wicket of Tom Latham, who nudged an away-swinger to De Kock.
But the home side fought back in the shape of Jeet Raval and Williamson, whose partnership of 102 was New Zealand’s first century stand for the second wicket against South Africa.
It was ended when Raval tried to work Keshav Maharaj to leg and steered a catch to midwicket to go for 52.
Eight overs later Taylor retired hurt, and eight overs after that Hashim Amla at slip produced a magical left-handed grab to remove Henry Nicholls and earn Maharaj’s second wicket.
New Zealand were the better team on Thursday, but that won’t matter if Williamson doesn’t add significantly to his score on Friday.
What the Kiwis see from him is exactly what they will get as the match unfolds.