South Africa crashed to 105 for six in their second innings at stumps on the third day of the second Test against New Zealand on Monday, but their lead of 372 was already well above the highest fourth-innings total ever made in a Test at SuperSport Park in Centurion.
England scored 251 for eight to beat South Africa here in 1999/2000 in Hansie Cronje’s famous leather jacket Test, but that was on a pitch that was far more benign and did not have the inconsistent bounce that is prevalent in this game.
Having bowled New Zealand out for 214, a lead of 267 on first innings, South Africa declined to enforce the follow-on and came out after tea to bat again, Quinton de Kock blazing a 42-ball half-century to get his name in the record books as only the fourth wicketkeeper in Test history to open the batting and score half-centuries in both innings. The others were Englishman Dick Spooner in Calcutta in 1951/52, India’s Farokh Engineer against England in 1973, and Pakistan’s Kamran Akmal against South Africa in 2007.
But the rest of the top-order, after their record-equalling efforts of all getting half-centuries in the first innings, were self-effacing in the extreme on Monday, the rest of the top five only scoring 11 runs between them.
De Kock hit Trent Boult’s first four deliveries from the West Lane End to the boundary (a couple of them edged between the slips and gully), but that was not an indication of how the rest of the innings would go.
Stephen Cook was not able to cover a booming inswinger from Boult and was trapped lbw for four and Hashim Amla (1) did not last long either, falling in the next over.
Tim Southee produced a superb delivery, of perfect length and swinging away, and Amla could only edge it to second slip.
JP Duminy came and went quickly, trapped lbw for a three-ball duck as Southee seamed the ball back into the left-hander, and Faf du Plessis (6) offered some dogged resistance for 36 minutes before the hazel-coloured pitch produced some extra bounce for Boult, the left-armer getting a delivery to go straight on, finding the edge of the bat and presenting second slip with a comfortable catch.
While everyone else was batting in a haze, De Kock was seeing the ball clearly and, when he could get the strike, hammered eight fours and a six in his 50.
His confidence eventually got the better of him though when an ill-judged attempt to ramp a short ball from Doug Bracewell got him into trouble and he ended up looping a catch to gully.
Stiaan van Zyl showed the forbearance of a nun in resisting temptation for 49 minutes and 32 balls, but eventually he followed the away-swing of left-armer Neil Wagner, his feet going nowhere, and was caught behind for five.
South Africa made it through to three figures thanks to the determination and skill of Temba Bavuma, who made it through to the close on 25 not out, in the company of Vernon Philander, who was on three.
The bad luck of the first innings seems to be behind Southee (10-5-27-2) and Boult (8-0-38-2), while the bang-it-in-seam of Bracewell and the constant pressure from Wagner earned them a wicket apiece as well.
The excellence of the Black Caps attack aside, the problems of the South African batsmen will obviously invoke some mixed feelings in the tourists because they still have to bat last and chase a near-impossible target.
Even the chances of survival look slight on this venomous surface.
Earlier, captain Kane Williamson had survived the danger of the South African pace attack and the tricky SuperSport Park pitch for 286 minutes before eventually being the last man out for 77 as New Zealand were dismissed for 214.
Williamson, rightfully considered one of the best batsmen of the modern game, was in the zone for 133 deliveries as wickets tumbled at the other end, before useful runs from the bowlers helped him to lift the Black Caps to a respectable total, albeit one that still left them 267 runs behind South Africa’s first-innings score of 481 for eight declared.
The home side declined to enforce the follow-on and instead an early tea was taken before the Proteas batsmen set about building an unassailable lead.
New Zealand resumed after lunch on 118 for six and there was some fiery short-pitched bowing from Kagiso Rabada and Dale Steyn in the second session. Lesser teams would have hid their women and children away, but the Black Caps bowlers decided to fight fire with fire, and the highlight of the afternoon came when Wagner, a son of Pretoria, took 18 runs off a Steyn over with some ferocious hook shots.
Steyn should have kept his cool and just pitched the ball up to the tailender, but eventually he won the battle (as the bowlers usually do) when Wagner edged another massive hook to wicketkeeper De Kock. But not before he had scored 31 runs off just 30 balls.
Rabada struck first after lunch when he trapped Bracewell lbw for 18, nipping the ball back to catch the batsman on the crease, and should also have claimed the wickets of Southee and Wagner.
He softened Southee up by hitting him with a short ball, the batsman then backing away and swatting the next delivery straight back at the bowler. Rabada had the catch but just couldn’t hang on to the caught-and-bowled chance.
Wagner had just two when he flapped a pull at Rabada and was caught in the slips. The batsman decided to review and it was discovered that Rabada had actually overstepped and bowled a no-ball.
Rabada will nevertheless be well-pleased with his figures of three for 62 in 16.3 overs and he claimed the big wicket of Williamson when the batsman was not able to control a hook at a bouncer that went above his head, feathering a catch to the wicketkeeper.
Southee (8) was the other batsman to go after lunch, backing away to try and cut spinner Dane Piedt, who crammed him with turn and bounce, De Kock taking a sharp catch behind the stumps.
Steyn finished with three for 66 in 20 overs, which sees him go to 411 Test wickets, just 10 behind Shaun Pollock’s South African record of 421, while Philander took two for 43 in 15 overs.
South Africa claimed three wickets in the last 45 minutes of the morning session to leave themselves in firm control with New Zealand on 118 for six at lunch.
New Zealand began the day under pressure on 38 for three, but Williamson and Henry Nicholls batted well in the first hour as they raised a fifty partnership despite the probing bowling of Steyn and Philander.
Nicholls could have been dismissed in the third over of the day when he top-edged a cut at Steyn, but the ball burst through the hands of a leaping Faf du Plessis in the slips and went away for four, taking the left-hander to eight not out.
The 24-year-old cut Steyn for two more boundaries in the over and went elegantly to 36 as the partnership grew to 60, but once Rabada was in the groove, the mood of the game changed and the batsmen were once again under pressure.
When Rabada fired a fast, full delivery, that held its line, through the left-hander’s defences, umpire Paul Reiffel turned down the appeal, but the TV umpire was called into play by the home side and he correctly overturned the decision, sending Nicholls back to the changeroom.
BJ Watling survived until the prospect of lunch was looming for the embattled Kiwis, but the return of Steyn and Philander ensured the session unequivocally belonged to South Africa.
The TV umpire was once again called into play when Watling gloved an awkward lifter down the leg-side to be caught behind for eight off Steyn, the champion paceman insisting on the review.
The change of ends also worked for Philander as he then nipped a delivery back into left-hander Mitchell Santner to bowl him off the inside-edge for a duck.