Martin strikes twice to set up intriguing final day
South Africa 316 and 82 for 3 (Smith 46*) need 152 more runs to beat New Zealand 297 and 252 (Styris 73, Boje 4-69)
Another riveting day of Test cricket ended with all three results still possible: South Africa needed 152 to pull off a win and level the series, New Zealand needed seven wickets to wrap up a 2-0 win, while the inclement Wellington weather - which delayed the start of play by 90 minutes today - meant that there was a chance of rain ruining what could be a fascinating finish to the series.
In keeping with the trend throughout the last two Tests, the fourth day's play witnessed many ebbs and flows. Chris Cairns and Scott Styris snatched the initiative in the morning session with some blazing strokeplay, adding 50 in just 30 minutes. Then, both fell in successive overs as the pendulum swung back in favour of South Africa. Chasing 234 for victory, Herschelle Gibbs and Graeme Smith started off in a hurry, before Chris Martin, yet again, pegged South Africa back.
Getting appreciable swing with the new ball, he forced Gibbs to steer one to Stephen Fleming at first slip (29 for 1). Gibbs was in ominous touch, creaming a couple of gorgeous cover-drives and an astonishing front-foot pull for six off Martin, on the way to a 12-ball 16. Then, Martin uncorked an absolute jaffa to nail Jacques Rudolph - scorer of 154 not out and 93 not out in his last two Test innings - for a duck. The ball pitched on leg, swung late, beat Rudolph's tentative defence, and knocked off stump out of the ground. After having raced to 28 without loss in four overs, South Africa were suddenly 31 for 2.
Five runs later, they had lost another wicket, as Jacques Kallis (1) was trapped in front by an indipper from Jacob Oram. Smith and Gary Kirsten then knuckled down to grind 46 for the fourth wicket. Kirsten, playing his last Test, displayed all his famed resolve and determination, and was unbeaten on a 58-ball 19, while Smith was on an assured 46.
It seemed South Africa would be set a much higher target than 234 when Cairns and Styris were blazing away in the morning session. On a cold and grey morning, both batsmen lit up the Basin Reserve with some scintillating strokeplay in what could have been an awkward 30-minute session. Cairns sent out the message early in the piece, pulling Shaun Pollock's first delivery - a gentle half-tracker at 120 kmph - over midwicket for six. He then waded into Nicky Boje, whipping two fours in an over. Styris joined in the fun, smashing a couple of off-side fours to bring up his half-century, as the lead - just 109 overnight - galloped past 150.
The lunch break gave the South Africans time to think out a plan, and they came out with one: Boje changed his line of attack to over the wicket, and bowled well outside leg stump with a deep midwicket and a long-on. It was an obvious trap, but Cairns fell for it, charging down and hoicking to leg. Martin van Jaarsveld ran around from deep midwicket and judged the catch to a nicety despite the swirling wind (198 for 6). Cairns made 41, in what could be his last Test innings.
More madness followed as Styris, who had motored along to 73, fetched a wide one from Andre Nel and slapped back a sharp return catch, which was well held by the bowler (201 for 7). Daniel Vettori edged a catch to the slips off Makhaya Ntini, and when Michael Mason was run out attempting a third run to give Oram the strike, New Zealand were 224 for 9, a lead of just 205.
Oram helped stretch the lead to 233 with some lusty hitting, including a pulled six over midwicket off Ntini, before he was trapped in front by Boje, who again bowled with superb control to return figures of 4 for 69.
In the Boxing Day Test earlier this season, Pakistan were set a target of 274, and romped home with seven wickets to spare. Martin's early wickets ensured that it wouldn't be quite as easy this time around. The stage was ideal for Kirsten to come up with a typically gritty effort. With only a single in each of his last three innings, he was certainly due a big score. Would he deliver, one last time, for South Africa?
S Rajesh is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.