Neil Wagner took two key wickets as South Africa limped to 63-3 at lunch on day one in Dunedin.
New Zealand have made the best possible start to this match and series. After losing the toss at the University Oval, they removed the dangerous Stephen Cook, Hashim Amla, and JP Duminy. The upshot is that the formidable South African batting lineup is now under real pressure to produce a significant first-innings score.
After the toss, Faf du Plessis admitted that he wasn’t sure how this pitch would play. In the end, the Proteas skipper’s decision to bat first was based on New Zealand’s selection of two spinners as well as the threat of rain later in the Test match.
The Black Caps surprised with the selection of off-spinner Jeetan Patel ahead of fast bowler Tim Southee. New Zealand went into this contest expecting some assistance from the pitch, and they certainly got it in the first session.
While Patel got some turn and troubled the batsmen when the ball kept low, it was the seamers who did all the damage on the first morning of the series. Trent Boult trapped Stephen Cook lbw after the opener misjudged a full delivery. The ball seamed back into the right-handed batsman who was in the process of shouldering arms. While it was a poor piece of judgement by Cook, it was just reward for Boult and New Zealand.
Elgar attempted to get forward to the spinners and wasn’t afraid to move his feet against the seamers. By contrast, Amla showed no intent to challenge the bowlers, and took as many as 20 balls to get off the mark.
Minimal footwork proved to be Amla’s undoing. Wagner swung back at the batsman and rattled Amla’s stumps. Four balls later, the South African-born player dismissed Duminy with a fierce short delivery that brushed the glove and helmet before finding its way into the hands of Ross Taylor at slip.
The celebrations that followed – particularly from a pumped-up Wagner – confirmed that the Black Caps felt they were on top. The Proteas reviewed unsuccessfully. At 22-3 on a difficult pitch, South Africa looked to be in real trouble.
Dean Elgar and Du Plessis battled their way through the remainder of the session. Both played some expansive strokes as they looked to break the stranglehold. By lunch, they had put on 41 runs for the fourth wicket.
Both teams will be looking to make a statement in the second session. The Proteas will want to survive that session unscathed. New Zealand’s chances of dismissing South Africa for less than 250 will increase if they take three or four wickets.
SA 63-3 (1st innings) – Dean Elgar 36 not out, Faf du Plessis 18 not out, Neil Wagner 2-23, Trent Boult 1-8
Photo: Dianne Manson/Getty Images