Sinclair and Cairns pull it back for New Zealand
New Zealand 248 for 6 (Sinclair 74, Cairns 60*, McCullum 55) v South Africa
A late fightback by Chris Cairns and Brendon McCullum ensured that New Zealand and South Africa shared the honours after the first day of the final Test at Wellington. For much of the day, Graeme Smith's decision to bowl first after winning the toss seemed justified, as New Zealand slumped to 23 for 2, and then 97 for 4. Then, Cairns (60 not out) and McCullum (55) carried on the good work that Mathew Sinclair - in the team for the indisposed Craig McMillan - had begun, as New Zealand ended on 248 for 6.
The pitch at the Basin Reserve afforded the seamers enough pace and bounce, but South Africa's hero was an unlikely one: Nicky Boje snared three crucial middle-order wickets with his left-arm spin, and finished with impressive figures of 3 for 61 from 19 overs. His contribution meant that the absence of Jacques Kallis - who left the field late in the first session with a side strain - wasn't felt as much as it might have been.
New Zealand were on the back foot for much of the day but their lower order, so effective in the first two Tests, did the job again. After two attritional sessions had produced only 141 runs, Chris Cairns and Brendon McCullum lit up the Basin Reserve in the last hour, as the post-tea session yielded 107.
Coming off a scintillating 158 at Auckland, Cairns strode in and snatched the initiative immediately. Boje's left-arm spin was dismissed over the sightscreen for six, while the seamers were cut and pulled with disdain. There was even an altercation with Andre Nel, who bowled with plenty of fire and heart, but had little to show for it. After being square-driven for four, Nel showed his displeasure with his usual verbals, and followed that with a beamer which Cairns just about managed to handle. The apology from Nel didn't impress Cairns much.
Smith opted for the second new ball as soon as it was due, but that only accelerated the scoring rate, as Cairns waded into Ntini, pulling a short one perfectly between the fielders stationed at fine leg and deep square leg. Ntini was forced to pitch it up, and Cairns duly smashed him through cover. He ended the day on 60, from just 72 balls.
At the other end, McCullum proved to be the ideal foil. He had started off aggressively, but dropped anchor as Cairns provided the fireworks, working the ball into the gaps and turning the strike over perfectly. He was trapped lbw in the final over of the day, by Shaun Pollock, but by then New Zealand had battled their way back into the match.
For much of the day, though, South Africa were in control. They started well, with a couple of wickets in the first hour: Ntini nailed Michael Papps lbw with a yorker, though replays suggested that the point of impact was just outside off (23 for 1), and then, six balls later, Mark Richardson wafted at one outside off from Kallis and nicked it to Mark Boucher.
Stephen Fleming and Sinclair led the recovery with a 67-run stand on either side of lunch, but a couple of quick wickets pegged New Zealand back again, as Fleming edged a drive to slip, and Scott Styris, with the confidence of a huge century under his belt at Auckland, charged down the pitch and was bowled for 1 (97 for 4). Boje, who had taken both those wickets, added a third one to his name when Sinclair missed a sweep and was trapped plumb in front (163 for 5). Sinclair made a controlled 74, a crucial innings but one which should have been converted into a more significant score. At that stage, Smith's hunch to field first seemed spot on. Then, Cairns strode in and began to stamp his presence on the day.