Smith and Gibbs make it South Africa's day
South Africa 231 for 2 (Smith 88, Gibbs 80) v New Zealand
Graeme Smith (88) and Herschelle Gibbs (80) threatened to take the game away with a punishing 177-run first-wicket partnership, but two wickets on either side of tea and some disciplined bowling in the final session enabled New Zealand to stay in touch in the second Test at Auckland.
Yet, the bowlers were guilty of throwing away a great chance in the morning. New Zealand included Chris Martin, the medium-pacer, for Paul Wiseman and sent South Africa in on a pitch that assisted seam movement. Martin, though, sprayed it all around and hardly made the batsmen play. Daryl Tuffey, normally a handful on a bowler-friendly wicket, lacked the spring in his stride and didn't cause the batsmen too many alarms. In fact, out of the 85 balls bowled in the first hour, 31 were left alone by the batsmen and New Zealand's frustration mounted.
That caused them to err in length as well, and a barrage of short balls followed. Smith, however, took them on with readiness. His pulls were executed with complete control, most of them all along the ground, but he did summon the strength to unleash one over square leg.
After the first drinks break Gibbs, who was circumspect to begin with, displayed his range. He carted Cairns for a huge six over midwicket in the 20th over. Three more fours followed and the run-rate, which was the only thing in New Zealand's control, took on healthy proportions.
After lunch, they switched to cruise mode. Smith gobbled up some generous offerings on leg stump as he tucked into them neatly. The errant line bowled to Smith was illustrated by the fact that he scored 70 out of 89 on the on side. With the inconsistent line that was bowled, singles were always on offer, and both rotated the strike admirably.
In between these singles, there were some gorgeous shots that lit up Eden Park. Gibbs drove, punched, and pulled with complete economy of footwork. Smith, who stroked eight fours and a six, showed his brute force with his pull shots and smacked the half-volleys with equal force.
New Zealand had two great chances just before tea. A run-out opportunity to dismiss Smith - a direct hit would have had him short of the crease - and an uppish flash from Gibbs that went perilously close to Jacob Oram at point. Both were squandered. But Cairns gave them the breakthrough they desperately needed. A good-length ball seamed away after pitching, and beat the outside of Gibbs's bat to clip the top of off stump (177 for 1). Gibbs smashed 13 fours and a six in his innings.
Martin then trapped Smith lbw off the first ball after the tea break - though the ball appeared to have pitched just outside leg - and New Zealand were sneaking back into it (177 for 2).
The rest of the day was about some disciplined bowling, which they could have dearly done with in the morning. Jacques Kallis began in imperious fashion, pulling and driving with élan, but the runs were gradually reduced to a trickle. Cairns and Styris plugged their ends and a number of edgy moments ensued. Only 54 were scored in the last session and Jacques Rudolph took an age to even get off the mark. He managed a painstaking 14 off 87 balls at the end.
Oram nearly had Kallis (39 not out) in the 78th over with a snorter that fizzed off a good length and took the glove, but the ball fell in no-man's land. The new ball also posed a few problems, but both Jacques managed to survive a few nervy moments.
Yet, for all the pressure that New Zealand applied, South Africa still had a great day. The Smith-and-Gibbs show provided the thrills and Kallis, who will chase Bradman's record of six hundreds in as many Tests tomorrow, was still unbeaten. A few wickets in the morning will tilt the scales. For that, New Zealand's bowlers will need some discipline.