New Zealand lose their way after Martin blitz
New Zealand 297 and 128 for 5 (Styris 41*) lead South Africa 316 (Rudolph 93*, Gibbs 77, van Jaarsveld 59, Martin 5-55) by 109 runs
Twelve wickets fell for 207 runs in a fascinating day of Test cricket at Wellington, as South Africa first lost their grip on the match, then clawed back with a determined effort in the field. By stumps on the third day at the Basin Reserve, New Zealand, who had done superbly to restrict South Africa to 316, were themselves struggling at 128 for 5, an overall lead of just 109.
Chris Martin was the star of the show in the morning session, taking three wickets in a fantastic exhibition of new-ball bowling. Swinging the ball appreciably with a perfectly upright seam, he ripped the heart out of the South African middle order, taking 5 for 55 - his third five-for in a row - as New Zealand took seven wickets for 79. The only resistance came from Jacques Rudolph, who followed his 154 not out at Auckland with a battling unbeaten 93. Instead of letting the collapse deflate them, South Africa bowled with exceptional discipline, first bottling up the runs and then knocking off New Zealand's top order.
Starting the day 60 behind New Zealand's first-innings effort, Rudolph and Martin van Jaarsveld negotiated the first six overs without much alarm, before Stephen Fleming opted for the new ball as soon as it was due. It changed things dramatically. Martin's first ball with it was short and just outside off, and van Jaarsveld (59) slapped it to Jacob Oram, who took a good low catch at gully (251 for 4). Jacques Kallis, who had stayed in the pavilion for much of the first two days with a side strain, came out at No. 6, and was done in by one that straightened after pitching and clipped the edge of the bat on the way to Brendon McCullum (265 for 5). Three balls later, South Africa were in more strife, as Mark Boucher perished to Martin for the third time in three innings, driving at a widish one outside off and edging to Michael Papps at third slip.
With Michael Mason struggling for rhythm at the other end, Fleming quickly pressed Oram into service - with immediate success, as Shaun Pollock edged to first slip (270 for 7). Rudolph and Nicky Boje then led a mini-revival, adding 34 for the eighth wicket, before Chris Cairns joined the party, taking the last three wickets to finish with 4 for 60.
All the while, Rudolph batted with admirable composure, getting behind the line and knocking the ball into the gaps. He did have one life, though, when Mark Richardson at midwicket spilled a straightforward chance off a mistimed pull off Scott Styris. With only Andre Nel for company, Rudolph lashed a couple of boundaries, but South Africa's limp lower-order performance meant that he ended up seven short of a well-deserved century.
There were more twists to come, though, as New Zealand's batsmen then lost their way too. Papps was trapped in front in Pollock's first over for a duck, though replays suggested that the ball would have gone over the stumps. Fleming and Richardson eschewed all risks in a studious 41-run stand before Fleming, who was uncharacteristically subdued in his 9 from 57 balls, lost his patience and his wicket, top-edging a pull off Nel (42 for 2). It was just reward for Nel, who bowled with plenty of fire - consistently clocking speeds of over 145kph - and maintained a searching line around off.
New Zealand continued to falter, with the South Africans pinching wickets just as the partnerships seemed set to assume dangerous proportions. Pollock deceived Mathew Sinclair with a well-thought-out plan, continuously bowling outswingers and then slipping in the indipper, which Sinclair left alone - he was trapped plumb in front (73 for 3).
A huge reason for South Africa's success was Boje, who did a superb job of blocking up an end, and finished with two wickets: Richardson, after many unsuccessful attempts at the sweep, finally connected with one, but hit it straight to Graeme Smith at short midwicket (107 for 4). McCullum was dismissed in more bizarre fashion, attempting to sweep one that pitched on middle. He missed, and the ball crashed into middle and off (111 for 5).
Styris counterattacked boldly to remain unbeaten on 41, with Cairns, playing possibly his last Test innings, on 7. New Zealand will need plenty more from this pair, and from the others to follow, to hold on to their 1-0 series lead.
S Rajesh is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.