Faf du Plessis scored his first Test century since December 2014 to put New Zealand on the ropes going into day three.
If it was daunting enough for the Black Caps to come anywhere close to South Africa’s 481-8 – the third-highest first-innings total at Centurion – now it seems near-impossible, as a handful of wickets, one controversial and one a complete giveaway, left them reeling on 38-3.
Then again, the chances of stand-in skipper Du Plessis getting a century looked similar this morning, but he battled, rode his luck, and then found some confidence out of nowhere, to achieve just that.
Going into the day on 282-3, JP Duminy began the day on 67 not out and had his eyes on a rare Test century. For all of the pressure he was carrying coming at No 4, he batted well and was the only one scoring runs in the morning session as Du Plessis got bogged down, reluctant to play any scoring shots. Perhaps that played its part in Duminy giving away his wicket, as he mistimed a short one and feathered an edge to BJ Watling, an agonising 12 runs short of a ton.
Temba Bavuma (8) then fell to the short-ball ploy just before lunch, top edging his hook shot to Doug Bracewell, who did well to run in from the boundary.
That was when Du Plessis started to get going, and a flurry of boundaries took him to a half-century in no time. His milestone marked the second time in South Africa’s Test history that all of the top five passed the half-century mark. In his 50-run stand with Stiaan van Zyl, he contributed 40 of them.
Van Zyl, coming in at No 7, batted well for his 35 as the pitch only got better for the fast bowlers. You could argue that the likes of Trent Boult and Tim Southee were unlucky not to get more rewards for their efforts, but not Neil Wagner. The former Affies student, playing in front of him family, got his five-wicket haul when he clean bowled Vernon Philander for eight.
Du Plessis made it an old-boys reunion worth celebrating, as he got his fifth Test century shortly after. It was an excellent effort after soaking up so much of the pressure in the morning. Dale Steyn had a bit of a wallop, and with that came the declaration on 481-8, with Du Plessis unbeaten on 112.
Then we witnessed what we were starting to witness in Durban, as Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander continued from where they left off. Martin Guptill was dropped by Stiaan van Zyl in the slips as Steyn squared him up, but it didn’t prove costly as Guptill offered Van Zyl another chance. This time he made no mistake, Philander the man to pick up the wicket.
Controversy followed, as Dale Steyn was adamant he’d found Tom Latham’s edge. The umpire was having none of it, but Steyn and Du Plessis were, and reviewed. Replays definitely showed the ball brushing Latham’s pocket, but the edge on the bat wasn’t as clear. The third umpire still saw enough to overturn it and send Latham back for four. This won’t be the last time we’ll hear of this, though.
Then, absolute panic from Ross Taylor. Clearly rattled from being hit by a couple of Steyn bouncers, he tried to scamper for a single in Kagiso Rabada’s first over of the series, only to rightfully be sent back. It was too late, though, as Bavuma reacted brilliantly to run him out.
Kane Williamson (15) and Henry Nicholls (4) saw off the final few overs of the day, to leave them on 38-3, 443 runs behind.
Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/Backpage Pix