There was no sign of a declaration yet as South Africa piled up 437 for six at tea on the second day of the second Test against New Zealand at SuperSport Park in Centurion on Sunday, with captain Faf du Plessis still chasing his first century since December 2014.
Du Plessis reached the break on 95 not out, a vital innings for him personally given that he had averaged just 18.42 in his 10 previous Tests and was no longer assured of his place in the team.
South Africa have handled a tricky pitch with aplomb, Du Plessis rounding off the notable achievement of the first five batsmen all scoring half-centuries. Temba Bavuma (8) became the first batsman not to even reach double figures as he was dismissed shortly before lunch, while there was also no fifty for Stiaan van Zyl (35), who fell 25 minutes before tea.
Van Zyl’s dismissal brought more success for Pretoria-born left-arm seamer Neil Wagner, who was the best of the New Zealand bowlers with four for 76 in 33 overs.
The left-handed batsman was caught by Ross Taylor at a fly-slip as he played defensively off the back foot at a delivery from over the wicket which was shaping into him but then held its line.
Du Plessis was more aggressive in the first hour after lunch, dominating a 50 partnership with Van Zyl that came up in 67 minutes, targeting the short-pitched bowling of the Kiwis.
The 32-year-old has now been at the crease for more than five hours, facing 205 deliveries with 10 fours and two sixes, both from hook shots. The second of those came in the afternoon session and was more convincing than the first, as he cleared fine leg off Tim Southee.
Du Plessis was fortunate to survive the curse of the short ball when he had 18, hooking Trent Boult to deep midwicket, where a running Henry Nicholls spilt the catch, the ball going over the boundary for his first six.
Du Plessis had grinded out a determined half-century, a record-equalling one for the Proteas’ top five, as South Africa reached 358 for five at lunch.
With the pitch still providing a lot of encouragement for the bowlers, it was a top-class effort by the South African batsmen and only the second time their top five have all passed 50 in a Test innings. The other occasion was against India at the same venue in December 2010, when Jacques Kallis scored his memorable maiden Test double-century (201*) and, with Graeme Smith (62), Alviro Petersen (77), Hashim Amla (140) and AB de Villiers (129) also all contributing, the Proteas scored 620 for four declared and won by an innings.
Du Plessis was obviously not at his best as he reached 57 not out at lunch, a morale-boosting second half-century for him in his last 16 innings.
New Zealand claimed two wickets in the morning session, both with short balls. On a pitch offering decent bounce, it was not hard to get the short ball well above the waist, although the bounce was still a bit ‘tennis-ball’ like, but the Black Caps produced well-directed short balls.
JP Duminy, whose tenacious innings of 88 ended a run of 11 innings without a half-century, had weathered the early-morning swing of Boult and seam of Southee as he progressed from his overnight score of 67.
But the left-hander then got out in frustrating fashion in the 12th over of the day, trying to hook Southee from outside off stump but misjudging the bounce of the delivery. The ball came off the bottom-edge of the bat and went low to wicketkeeper BJ Watling.
Bavuma is obviously in good form but he took his time to get settled, scoring eight in 52 minutes before he too fell playing the hook shot, top-edging Wagner, who is making a habit of getting wickets with the short ball, to fine leg, where Doug Bracewell ran in from the boundary to take a fine catch.