N Zealand v S Africa, 3rd Test, Wellington, 2nd day March 27, 2004

Gibbs and Rudolph lead the way

South Africa 237 for 3 (Gibbs 77, Rudolph 60*) trail New Zealand 297 (Sinclair 74, Cairns 69, McCullum 55, Boje 4-65) by 60 runs

Herschelle Gibbs: rode his luck to score a belligerent 77 © AFP

A strong performance with both bat and ball put South Africa in a commanding position after two days of the Wellington Test. First, they bundled out New Zealand for 297, allowing the last four wickets to add just 49 to the overnight total. Then, their batsmen hammered home that advantage, as South Africa end the day on 237 for 3, just 60 in the arrears.

South Africa's reply was built around two century partnerships - Graeme Smith (47) and Herschelle Gibbs (77) put together 103 for the first wicket, while Jacques Rudolph carried on from where he had left off at Auckland with a well-compiled unbeaten 60, adding 101 in an unfinished fourth-wicket stand with Martin van Jaarsveld (48 not out). The innings wobbled briefly, when Chris Martin got a couple of wickets in quick succession, but Rudolph and van Jaarsveld quickly shut out any chances of a collapse.

For New Zealand, though, it was a case of missed opportunities - they spilled three catches and were denied a wicket by Asoka de Silva. Gibbs benefited twice: first, de Silva shockingly ruled in his favour when he clearly top-edged a sweep to the keeper, then Stephen Fleming at deep mid-on completely misjudged a lofted drive. Daniel Vettori was the unlucky bowler on both occasions. van Jaarsveld and Rudolph were dropped off consecutive overs as well. On a true pitch and in extremely blustery conditions which often threw the bowlers off their rhythm, these were chances New Zealand could ill afford to miss.

Both Smith and Gibbs started off aggressively, creaming drives and pulls as New Zealand's bowlers, expecially Michael Mason, the debutant, repeatedly strayed in length. Smith was the more assured of the two, but fell against the run of play, dragging a wide one from Cairns - who bowled with plenty of fire and consistently touched 140 kmph - onto his stumps (103 for 1). Gibbs finally spooned a square-drive off Martin (130 for 2), who followed that up with a beauty to get rid of Kirsten, getting the ball to pitch on middle and shape away - Kirsten was forced to play at it, and only managed to nick it to the keeper, and trudged back for his third successive score of 1 (136 for 3).

Rudolph and van Jaarsveld stemmed the rot, though. Both were unruffled to play out plenty of dot balls, and played to their strengths: Rudolph executed some powerful drives in the arc between backward point and extra cover, while van Jaarsveld preferred the square-drive and the cut shot, waiting patiently for the bowlers to pitch short.

Fleming shuffled his bowlers around, giving Vettori a long spell into the wind, while Cairns, bowling with the wind at his back, regularly touched 140 kmph. The bowlers regularly found the edge of the bat, and plenty of runs were scored in the third-man region, but the breakthrough remained elusive.

Shaun Pollock provides the perfect start to the day for South Africa, dismissing Chris Cairns for 69 © AFP

Earlier, Shaun Pollock was the hero with the ball, braving the gusty winds and bowling an accurate spell to restrict New Zealand to a sub-300 total. New Zealand's hopes of posting a sizeable score rested mainly on Cairns, and he started in right earnest, depositing the third ball he faced, from Andre Nel, over square leg for the 81st six of his Test career, only three behind Viv Richards's all-time record.

The Cairns show ended soon after, though, courtesy a superb piece of bowling by Pollock. After beating the outside edge with one that shaped away, Pollock got the next delivery to pitch just outside off and nip back. Cairns shouldered arms, and the ball clipped the off bail (257 for 7). Two balls later, Pollock had more reward for his tireless effort, when Vettori nicked one to the keeper. Mason fell soon after, edging to the slips, as New Zealand plummeted to 264 for 9.

Jacob Oram set about salvaging the situation somewhat with some lusty hitting. The presence of Martin at the other end didn't inspire much confidence, though - Martin hadn't scored a run in his last nine Test innings - and it was up to Oram to take charge. He did, smashing Pollock for two sixes over midwicket and slapping a four over the bowler's head. Smith finally turned to Boje, and the move paid off, as Oram charged down the pitch off the last ball, missed, and was easily stumped to give Boje his fourth wicket of the innings.

S Rajesh is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.