A gutsy century by Dean Elgar boosted South Africa to 229-4 on day one of the first Test in Dunedin.
The Proteas have finished the first day of this three-match series in a strong position. Thanks to Elgar, Faf du Plessis, and to a lesser extent Temba Bavuma, the platform has been set for a first-innings total in excess of 350.
South Africa have fought hard to be in such a position. When they were reduced to 22-3 after 19 overs, few would have bet on them posting as much as 250. At that stage, the likes of Trent Boult and Neil Wagner were hitting superb lengths and receiving significant assistance from the pitch.
Elgar and Du Plessis then proceeded to score 126 runs for the fourth wicket. Elgar offered up a chance in the second over after lunch when he glanced Boult down the leg side. Had BJ Watling pouched that catch, Elgar would have departed for 36 and the Proteas would have been in deep trouble at 63-4.
As it was, Elgar and Du Plessis played carefully, yet positively to bring the Proteas back into the contest. The Proteas skipper was the more aggressive of the two, and this approach cost him when he went after Jimmy Neesham before tea and was caught in the deep.
The dismissal did little to disrupt the Proteas’ focus. Elgar played patiently, waiting for the loose delivery and then caressing it through the offside. He celebrated after reaching his century; a wonderful knock given the visitors’ early setbacks.
What was impressive to see was the determination he showed after reaching the three-figure mark. Elgar finished the day just one run shy of his highest Test score (129). He will have the chance to surpass that score and possibly 200 on day two.
Bavuma came to the crease desperate for runs. After taking 20 balls to get off the mark, he started to find the middle of the bat and contribute to yet another significant partnership for South Africa. Elgar and Bavuma have already amassed 81 runs for the fifth wicket.
The Proteas will be thrilled with their efforts on a new pitch at the University Oval. After South Africa won the toss, Du Plessis admitted that the South Africans knew nothing about the track.
The decision to bat was based on New Zealand’s selection of two spinners and the omission of Tim Southee. The visitors did not want to bat last on a wicket that was expected to take some turn.
The pitch offered the spinners and seamers assistance in the first session, but flattened out as the day progressed. Conditions should be best for batting on day two. South Africa – with the likes of Quinton de Kock and Vernon Philander to come – will have the opportunity to play themselves into a position where they can’t lose the match.
SA 229-4 (1st innings) – Dean Elgar 128 not out, Faf du Plessis 52, Temba Bavuma 38 not out, Neil Wagner 2-59
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