The Proteas have gone 1-0 up against New Zealand, after Keshav Maharaj’s 6-40 in Wellington on Saturday helped them to an eight-wicket victory.
What a difference a session can make. Going into lunch on day three at the Basin Reserve, New Zealand were on 55-2, just 36 runs behind South Africa’s 359. A few more wickets saw them precariously placed on 136-5, and by the close of play, the Proteas were one up with one match to play.
Maharaj was outstanding, as in the first drawn Test in Dunedin, and became the first spinner to take five-wicket hauls in consecutive matches in New Zealand since 1973, when Pakistani Intikhab Alam achieved the feat.
It’s incredible to think that the Proteas were stranded on 94-6 on day two, with the Black Caps looking good value for a significant first-innings advantage. That was until Temba Bavuma (89) and Quinton de Kock (91) put on 160 runs to propel themselves to a 99-run lead.
That lead was also helped along by Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel, who could only add 10 more runs to the overnight total before the latter departed for an excellent, personal best of 40, with Philander remaining not out on 37.
This allowed the Kiwis almost a full day of batting, but they suffered an early blow, and once again it was Tom Latham who was forced to walk back cheaply. His scores on this tour have read 0, 2, 0, 10, 8 and now 6, as Morkel found his edge for the second time in the match.
Then came the end of what was skipper Kane Williamson’s worst-ever Test match, literally, as he feathered an edge behind for Morkel’s second wicket for one. His match tally of three was his lowest in whites for New Zealand.
Morkel wasn’t done yet as he picked up another wicket after lunch, seeing off debutant Neil Broom for 20. It was in the 32nd over however, when the tide really turned, as Maharaj notched up two in the same over. First he bowled Henry Nicholls, who scored 118 in the first innings, for seven, before Jimmy Neesham needlessly chipped one to short mid-wicket for four.
The carnage continued as the hosts failed to build up any meaningful, Bavuma-De Kock-esque partnerships that could make their target competitive. And it was all down to Maharaj. Jeet Raval was the only one up for the task as he scored a career-best 80, but left-armer Maharaj forced a blip in concentration from the opener to see him stumped for 80, before proceeding to claim the wickets of Colin de Grandhomme (0) and then Tim Southee (4).
That was his five-for wrapped up, and he put the seal on the innings with the wicket of the stubborn BJ Watling (29), to claim figures of 6-40, building on his previous best of 5-94 from the first Test.
The match was wrapped up inside 25 overs of the Proteas’ second innings, as Hashim Amla asked for the extra half an hour available to his side to see off the remaining runs required in the evening session.
Questions will be asked of Stephen Cook’s place in the side after producing a scratchy 11 to go with his 3, 0 and 3 in this series. Dean Elgar meanwhile can’t be blamed for opening up his shoulders in his attempts to see off the match, falling for 17. Amla was in complete control of his knock, hitting five fours for his unbeaten 38, with JP Duminy (15) watching his partner hit the winning runs at the other end to cap off the three-day victory.
The hosts will have a week to regroup and attempt to draw the series level, as they continue their search for a first Test victory over the Proteas since 2004. It gets underway in Hamilton from Friday.
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