Fleming century carries New Zealand
Fleming's poor conversion-rate in Tests is well documented - less than one in every ten matches - and is a reason why he falls short of the top echelon of batsmen. But today he produced an innings of high quality in testing conditions. Initially he had to be watchful, after three quick wickets had negated a rare solid opening stand, but as the movement diminished his strokeplay expanded.
The key passage of play was Fleming's 106-run stand with Nathan Astle, which blunted South Africa during the afternoon session. The pair had their fair share of luck, not least when Mark Benson missed an outside-edge from Astle which would have left New Zealand four down for less than 100. Test matches can ride on such moments and although it is too early to gauge the scale of that reprieve, it allowed Astle a second chance and he built on it.
Fleming made a conscious effort to attack Nicky Boje, who turned a couple past Astle's outside edge without the aid of the footholes, and spin will clearly play a vital role in this match. New Zealand read the conditions by selecting Jeetan Patel, the offspinner, for a debut and the fact Smith bowled himself during the final session was a concession that things hadn't quite gone to plan.
However, with Smith desperately needing his bowlers to come to the fore, Ntini again answered the cry and trapped Astle lbw. The decision was slightly harsh but, for Astle, what goes around comes around and he'd had his stroke of fortune for the day. A mix-up between Fleming and Jacob Oram offered Smith a further boost before Ntini stuck a late blow by pinning the dangerous Brendon McCullum with one that nipped back. The autumnal light, which will lop time off each day, then closed in to deny Ntini the chance of making further inroads.
New Zealand had needed the steely edge offered by Fleming and Astle after South Africa seized the advantage with two wickets early in the afternoon session. Peter Fulton, who had impressed with his powerful driving against the new ball, was brilliantly pouched by Mark Boucher, diving low to his right in the first over after lunch. Scott Styris was then given a torrid working-over from Ntini, taking a nasty blow on the helmet that left him stunned for a few moments. A painful period of batting followed as he took direct hits on his arms and body before, unsurprisingly, fending a lifter to first slip.
After a 30-minute delay to the start the early rewards did not come South Africa's way as Fulton and Michael Papps stood up strongly against the moving ball. The start of 50 without loss was a marked improvement on efforts from the first Test when the innings read 45 for 5 and 28 for 6. But just as New Zealand were eyeing a wicketless session Andre Nel, returning in place of the injured Shaun Pollock, bent a delivery back into Papps's off stump, which ended up halfway back to the wicketkeeper. It was a timely strike for South Africa and when the two quick wickets followed, Smith's decision to bowl was starting to look safer.
However, Fleming was in no mood to concede the series to South Africa while it hadn't even reached the halfway mark. As a century loomed he lost the fluency that had marked most of his stay - his square-cut and cover-drive were in especially fine order - but managed to hold himself together long enough. Fittingly, he brought up his ton by lofting Smith tantalisingly over mid-off and the relief was clear. It was a day of fine margins and close calls but, with Fleming leading the way, New Zealand have sneaked the advantage.
Michael Papps b Nel 22 (50 for 1)
Shouldered arms to a sharp inswinger
Peter Fulton c Boucher b Steyn 36 (62 for 2)
Smart one-handed catch low to right
Scott Styris c Dippenaar b Ntini 11 (82 for 3)
Fended a short ball to first slip
Nathan Astle lbw b Ntini 50 (188 for 4)
Beaten for pace, height an issue
Jacob Oram run out (Prince) 13 (237 for 5)
Ball tickled behind square, mix-up, well short at bowler's end
Brendon McCullum lbw b Ntini 5 (259 for 6)
Played across line to one that seamed back
Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of Cricinfo