After stumbling to 38 for 3 by stumps on the second day, New Zealand’s batsmen were forced to fight for the first time on their tour of Africa. Kane Williamson’s diligent work ethic helped weather a testing period on the third morning but two wickets just before the lunch break meant South Africa’s fast bowlers had an opening into New Zealand’s largely untested lower order.
New Zealand ended the first session at 118 for 6, still 164 behind their first target of avoiding the follow-on.
Williamson displayed exemplary technique – head over the ball, soft hands at point of contact and bat near the pad – to quell Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander, all of whom got the ball to move both ways and picked up a wicket each in the morning session. Williamson repeatedly left deliveries on a testing line outside off stump, forcing the quicks straighter and then picking them off through midwicket – his modus operandi for most of the morning session.
South Africa didn’t waver from their plan to Henry Nicholls, though. In the third over of the morning, Steyn dished up three wide bouncers outside off and Nicholls slashed at all of them. The first carried at head height to Faf du Plessis at second slip but the ball burst through his hands, which ensured a barrage of short balls.
Despite fending or avoiding most bouncers awkwardly, Nicholls seemed largely untroubled against the ensuing full deliveries until he missed a drive off Rabada. Umpire Paul Reiffel adjudged Nicholls to be not out but du Plessis asked for a review immediately. Hawkeye indicated that the ball had pitched in line and would have hit middle stump. South Africa had their first wicket of the morning and New Zealand were 86 for 4.
A couple of experimental overs from offspinner Dane Piedt quickly gave way to the seamers after Nicholls’ dismissal. The short-pitched plan continued with a leg gully and short leg in place, particularly for Steyn who employed that length for most of the morning. Williamson and BJ Watling, two of New Zealand’s better-equipped batsmen to tackle the bouncer, ducked or swayed out of the line.
Steyn persevered and reaped reward when a well-directed short delivery had Watling fending off his ribs, the ball grazing his glove on the way to wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock. Umpire Ian Gould said not out after a vociferous appeal from behind the wicket, but du Plessis asked for the review again. A thin spike on Snicko resulted in South Africa’s second wicket of the day, via their second successful review.
Just before lunch, Mitchell Santner, batting for the first time on the tour, was undone by a delivery that jagged back in from Vernon Philander and hit the stumps off the inside edge. South Africa had taken control of the Test as New Zealand’s middle order withered under Centurion’s blue skies.