Faf du Plessis and Temba Bavuma were at their most cautious as they carried South Africa through to tea on 146 for four on the first day of the first Test against New Zealand at Sahara Stadium Kingsmead on Friday.
They had reason to play defensively though, as they came together with the home side having slipped to 106 for four in the first half-hour after lunch, which South Africa took on 94 for two. The loss of Hashim Amla and JP Duminy led to the squeeze being put on the Proteas, and just 52 runs were scored in the 27 overs of the second session.
Captain Du Plessis at times resembled someone trying to wade through waist-high syrup as he reached tea on 18 not out off 74 deliveries, while the diminutive Bavuma was a bit more fluent, collecting three boundaries in his 22 not out off 49 balls.
South Africa had won the toss and elected to bat first, but overcast skies and a pitch that certainly kept the bowlers interested made batting a challenge. The size of the task did not get to the classy Hashim Amla, however, as he breezed to a 62-ball half-century in a thrilling display of counter-attacking strokeplay.
Left-arm paceman Trent Boult is the chief threat in the New Zealand attack, and he claimed the key scalp of Amla (53) with a fine delivery, tight on off stump and just nipping back in enough to find the inside-edge, the ball then deflecting off the batsman’s thigh to give wicketkeeper BJ Watling a comfortable catch.
JP Duminy is fighting for his Test place and a pull shot that goes wrong is always going to attract criticism in those circumstances, so it was perhaps a shot the left-hander should have put away. But having gone to 14 and shared a third-wicket stand of 61 in just over an hour with Amla, he tried to pull left-arm seamer Neil Wagner and skied the ball straight to fine leg.
The obdurate Du Plessis and Bavuma ensured there were no more breakthroughs though for the persistent Black Caps. No one was more probing though than Boult, who had taken two for 18 in 13 overs.
Amla had made it hard to believe he had an average of just 18.62 in Tests in Durban before Friday as he charged to 42 not out and led South Africa to 94 for two at lunch.
Du Plessis, leading for the first time in a Test as a stand-in for the injured AB de Villiers, had won the toss and elected to bat first under heavily overcast skies, hoping that the dew on the outfield that had delayed the start by half-an-hour would make the ball wet and kill the swing for the New Zealand bowlers.
And it was all going to plan for most of the first hour as openers Stephen Cook and Dean Elgar went to 33 without loss. Both were dismissed within the next three overs though, failing to build on solid starts, leaving the Proteas on a precarious 41 for two.
Amla came to the crease having scored just 298 runs in 16 previous Test innings at Kingsmead, but played with enormous confidence as he rattled off nine boundaries and scored at marginally better than a run-a-ball.
The impressive Boult and Doug Bracewell were the men to take wickets before lunch for New Zealand, with Boult having Cook caught behind for 20 with an excellent delivery that the batsman had to play, but which moved away just enough to find the edge of the bat.
Elgar did not look as assured as Cook and scored 19 before he pushed hard at a delivery from Bracewell that was well outside off stump and should have been left, edging a comfortable catch to Martin Guptill at second slip.
Duminy was pushed up the order to maintain the left-hand/right-hand batting pair and had reached 13 not out at the break.
Boult bowled a superb, nagging opening spell of eight overs on the trot, conceding just eight runs and getting the first wicket.