Third Test

New Zealand v South Africa

Colin Bryden

At Basin Reserve, Wellington, March 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 2004. South Africa won by six wickets. Toss: South Africa. Test debut: M. J. Mason.

A crucial fourth-innings stand between Graeme Smith, who made a classy unbeaten hundred, and Gary Kirsten, playing his last Test before retirement, enabled South Africa to hit straight back at New Zealand and tie the series between two well-matched teams.

South Africa replaced McKenzie and Terbrugge with van Jaarsveld and Nel, while New Zealand were forced into two changes. McMillan, the worst affected by a virus that swept through the team, withdrew on the morning of the match and was replaced by Sinclair, while Michael Mason, a 29-year-old right-arm fast-medium bowler, won his first cap in place of the injured Tuffey.

Sinclair soon had a chance to show his worth after both openers fell quickly on a pitch of greater pace and bounce than others used on this tour. But there was also a typical Wellington gale: a strong northerly that made life awkward for the seamers, forcing those bowling upwind to shorten their run-ups. Kallis looked particularly effective doing this, but managed just seven overs before leaving the field with a side strain.

Boje also coped well with the blustery weather, dismissing Fleming and Styris in quick succession and reducing New Zealand to 97 for four. McCullum first supported Sinclair, who struck 74 on his return, and then Cairns, again batting with freedom and power, in a sixth-wicket stand of 85. The new ball worked its magic, though, leaving Oram stranded with last man Martin. Oram hit out before he was stumped off Boje; Martin at least got a single, ending his record sequence of scoreless innings.

With the wind blowing even harder next day, South Africa looked set to take command as Smith and Gibbs, unperturbed by the weather or anything else, moved to their seventh century opening stand, a South African record. And before the day was out, Rudolph and van Jaarsveld had shared another hundred partnership. Once again, though, Martin produced a crucial spell. Armed with the second new ball and in calmer weather, he wrecked South African hopes of a big lead by ripping out three of the middle order in the space of 16 delieveries.

Rudolph played another impressive innings, but only Boje could stay with him as the last seven wickets fell for 65, to the delight of the third-day crowd of 9,020, the largest of the Test series. South Africa immediately put the pressure back on New Zealand, however, as Pollock removed Papps in the first over with one that cut back sharply. Richardson and Fleming were painstakingly slow, and Fleming admitted afterwards that New Zealand might have been over-cautious in trying to guard their lead in the series. By the end of the third day, things looked bleak: they were five down and only 109 ahead.

Next day initially brought frustration for the tourists as, in bright sunshine, the groundstaff took an age to remove the covers after overnight and early-morning rain. And when play did start, 90 minutes late, New Zealand won the first exchanges. Styris and Cairns scored freely, adding 70 in 15 overs before Cairns was caught at deep mid-wicket. Styris followed next over when Nel held a reflex catch in his followthrough.

Once again Oram found himself batting with Martin with his own innings barely established, and once again he hit effectively to add precious runs, taking the total of his two last-wicket stands with Martin to 61. His partner contributed two. During this partnership, Smith remonstrated furiously with umpire de Silva after he called a wide. At the end of the over, Nel, who had been trying to prevent Oram from keeping the strike, snatched his sweater from the umpire. The referee, Clive Lloyd, fined both for dissent, Nel losing three-quarters of his match fee and Smith half.

South Africa needed 234 to win. Smith and Gibbs started aggressively before Martin, in his last effective burst of the series, had Gibbs caught at first slip and then removed the left-handed Rudolph's off stump with a beauty that moved away. Kallis failed for the second time and Kirsten, in his last Test innings, arrived with his side at a crisis point. From 36 for three, Smith and Kirsten batted soundly until bad light ended the fourth day with another 152 required.

The fifth day, though, was all South Africa. Smith scored the majority of his runs on the leg side while his fellow left-hander Kirsten cut and drove through the off. They had taken their fourth-wicket stand to 171 when Kirsten fell lbw for 76 in the last over before lunch. He returned to the dressing-room through a guard of honour formed by his team-mates. The formalities remained, but Kirsten had made a final and successful contribution to his team - and South Africa had still not lost a Test series against New Zealand.

Man of the Match: G. C. Smith.

© John Wisden & Co