It might look like honours even on paper, but the Proteas have the advantage going into day four.
Crucially, the Proteas have a five-run lead. It might not seem like much, but it means they can start afresh on Saturday and build from ball one, with just one wicket down, and with the shine off the new ball.
On a pitch that seems to be playing more tricks as the match wears on, and against a side who still have to bat again, and with a hobbling Ross Taylor in the Kiwi middle-order … this is South Africa’s match.
New Zealand have fought hard for the past two days. I said yesterday that Kane Williamson would be the key wicket, but he added another 52 runs to his overnight total, and it’s what allowed the Black Caps to gain a first-innings lead. It was a beautiful knock to watch, and it took an excellent delivery from Kagiso Rabada to remove him.
BJ Watling battled hard for his 50, and Taylor’s return to the crease might yet prove invaluable, for he added an extra 17 runs with Neil Wagner. But Taylor has a tear on his calf, and he looked extremely uncomfortable. It will be difficult for him to make an impact in the fourth innings.
Keshav Maharaj, who collected his maiden five-wicket haul, proved that spin is going to play a massive role from here on. He used the pace and bounce of the wicket to get most of his scalps. The ball rushed on Watling to see him off, before a bit of extra bounce saw Wagner’s blitz come to an end. The finger spin of Jeetan Patel could be something to look out for tomorrow.
The fact that the Proteas only lost one wicket in that 18-over spell in the evening session means that they can pretty much start from the beginning on a better pitch than the New Zealanders will bat on. Stephen Cook walked when he didn’t need to for his duck, perhaps confused by the fact that he brushed his bat on to his pad. But an in-form Dean Elgar, a run-starved Hashim Amla and the rest of the top order should be able to steer the tourists towards a challenging target.
Photo: Dianne Manson/Gallo Images