After a first day that somehow delivered rather less than it suggested, South Africa were handily placed to take a firm grip on the second Test and the three-match Castle Lager/MTN series.

The St George's Park pitch, the subject of a good deal of speculation before the match, offered South Africa's bowlers something, but perhaps not much as Shaun Pollock might have expected when he sent New Zealand in to bat.

The touring side, meanwhile, are quite clearly in trouble at 206 for seven with a ratty tail to come, yet in making an unbeaten 88 Mathew Sinclair demonstrated that by watching and waiting for the right ball runs were available.

New Zealand seemed to keep on doing the hard work and then undoing as South Africa plugged away during the day. It was always hard going - "A difficult day," according to New Zealand coach David Trist - and it was not always easy to watch, but after an untidy morning the home side slipped into their established patterns and they were nicely positioned to take charge of the game at stumps on Thursday evening.

The New Zealand batsmen, though, will keep looking at Sinclair and wondering how they got it wrong. Before this match almost exactly half of Sinclair's 430 Test runs had come in a single innings - in his maiden Test match when he made 214 against the West Indies.

He is by nature an attacking player with good hands and a fine eye, but he might well be batting a few places too high. He drives beautifully through the off off both the front and back foot, but there is not a great deal of foot movement in either shot. Nevertheless, he picked the right balls to hit and the right ones to leave and if he goes on to a century on Friday morning, it will be thoroughly deserved.

And there was a fair bit to leave, especially in the morning from Allan Donald. He has a bruised heel and generally lacked rhythm. Even so, apart from his opening spell, when he was asked, he delivered. He came back for a second spell before lunch and had Craig Spearman caught at short leg and then had Adam Parore caught at the wicket in the first over with the second new ball.

Mostly, though, South Africa looked to Pollock and Makhaya Ntini to plug away at New Zealand. Pollock, typically, gave very little away as he picked up four wickets (although he might have been a trifle lucky to have Nathan Astle leg before as he padded up), but the day's two best moments were reserved for Ntini.

He bowled Mark Richardson with a wonderful ball that had the batsman wondering how it had squeezed between bat and pad and produced a quite sensational catch, running in from fine leg and diving forward, to hold onto a top-edged hook from Craig McMillan.

Ntini's figures were spoiled in his last over of the day when Sinclair helped himself to four boundaries (three drives and an edge), but the Border quick is now making a full contribution to the team effort. You couldn't honestly say that of him during his first few Test matches two years ago.

There has been the occasional uneven bounce, but not the lateral movement that might have been expected. The pitch should probably be at its best to bat on during the second and third days. New Zealand could have a long haul ahead of them.