Dale Steyn and his wonderful supporting act of fast bowlers bowled New Zealand out for just 195 on the fourth day of the second Test at SuperSport Park in Centurion on Tuesday, giving South Africa a series-clinching 204-run win.
Steyn struck twice in the first over of the innings and then again in his second over, before adding two more wickets in the final session and finishing with an outstanding five for 33 in 16.2 overs, his 26th five-wicket haul and his first since December 2014 against the West Indies at the same ground.
Vernon Philander (14-4-34-2) and Kagiso Rabada (13-2-54-2) chipped in with two wickets apiece and off-spinner Dane Piedt made an important breakthrough when he trapped BJ Watling lbw for 32, ending a 68-run stand for the fifth wicket, the highest of the innings.
While the first four New Zealand wickets could manage just seven runs between them, thanks to Steyn’s sensational burst with the new ball, the Black Caps dug in well in the afternoon, led by Henry Nicholls.
The 24-year-old, playing in just his sixth Test, showed great temperament and judgement on a difficult pitch in only playing at what he had to, scoring a career-best 76 and being the last man out after four-and-a-quarter hours of defiance.
New Zealand had resumed on 95 for five after tea and Steyn, having enjoyed a good rest in the second session, was back in action from the West Lane End. Coming around the wicket to left-hander Mitchell Santner, a beautiful delivery that straightened and found the edge, only for Hashim Amla to drop the catch at first slip, was merely the appetizer for a thunderbolt he unleashed five balls later that roared straight through the batsman’s gate, bowling Santner for 16.
The Black Caps were 118 for six but South Africa’s job was not 100% complete yet and they had to get past a belligerent Doug Bracewell, who belted 30 runs before being trapped just about plumb lbw by Philander.
Rabada had battled for rhythm and consistency in his first two spells of the innings, but such is the maturity of the 21-year-old that he knew what to do when he returned late in the day. He bowled fuller than he had previously and reaped the rewards as superb yorkers bowled Tim Southee for 14 and trapped Neil Wagner lbw for three.
The last rites were fittingly performed by Steyn, finally removing the stumbling block that Nicholls had become for 140 deliveries. The left-hander swished a delivery to leg but the ball came off the upper half of the bat and Rabada was down on the fine leg boundary to catch it and complete the victory.
The remarkable Steyn has now joined Sri Lankan spinner Rangana Herath with the seventh-most five-fors in Test history, with Ian Botham (27), Glenn McGrath (29) and Richard Hadlee (36) the only fast bowlers with more.
Nicholls and Watling had provided some resistance for New Zealand before Piedt made his important breakthrough to leave the visitors on 95 for five at tea.
Nicholls and Watling came together with New Zealand on a parlous seven for four, Steyn and Philander having ripped through the top-order, and they showed excellent determination as they added 68 for the fifth wicket.
Once Steyn and Philander were rested after lunch, Rabada was unable to back up their efforts and it was off-spinner Piedt who eventually claimed the fifth wicket, two hours after the fourth victim had fallen.
Watling was trapped lbw for 32 by a delivery that turned sharply, TV umpire Richard Illingworth confirming that umpire Paul Reiffel had been correct to give the batsman out as he went across his stumps and tried to work the ball on the leg-side. Hawkeye showed that Watling was not struck outside the line of off-stump, which was the key question.
The 24-year-old Nicholls showed in his first-innings 36 that he has potential at the highest level and he had done well to reach tea on 37 not out.
A top-class burst of new-ball bowling from Steyn had left New Zealand in a state of disarray at lunch with the visitors on 18 for four.
South Africa had batted for an hour in the morning session, taking their overnight score of 105 for six to 132 for seven before declaring with Temba Bavuma on a determined 40 not out. It left New Zealand with a theoretical target of 400 for victory, but way more realistically with five-and-a-half sessions to survive on a pitch that provided a disconcerting amount of inconsistent bounce.
Steyn made a phenomenal start to the New Zealand innings with a wicket with his first ball and then another with his sixth, dismissing both openers, Tom Latham and Martin Guptill for first-ball ducks, only the fifth time that has happened in Test history.
He found the right length and swing with the minimum of fuss, and also zeroed in on the cracks that gave him extra bounce to dismiss Latham and Guptill and sent the ball scurrying at ankle height to trap Ross Taylor lbw in his second over.
Latham played on to his stumps as he battled to withdraw the bat from a delivery outside off stump that nipped back in and leapt off the pitch, while Guptill’s average against South Africa sank to an ugly 14.38 when he edged a tremendous delivery, bouncing and swinging away, to first slip.
Taylor was also dismissed for a duck, suffering the horrible fate of watching helplessly as the ball jagged off a crack and kept low, striking him just above the foot straight in front of the stumps.
Much has been said about how crucial captain Kane Williamson is to the New Zealand batting line-up, and he persevered for nearly half-an-hour in scoring five before Philander chipped in with his wicket. Williamson was playing a positive shot, driving off the back foot, but the ball just nipped away to find the edge of the bat and wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock flung himself full-length to claim a brilliant, low catch.
South Africa did not manage to land any other blows before lunch as Nicholls (7*) and Watling (5*) survived the next four overs.
The Proteas added 27 runs to their second innings in the morning, the Black Caps removing Philander for 14, but the prospect of bowlers suffering blows to fingers and arms perhaps hastened the declaration.
Philander was bowled when he shouldered arms – a misjudgement because the ball was just outside off stump – and Southee (16-6-46-3) made the ball cut back, but Bavuma was really courageous and impressive in finishing with 40 not out after 113 balls and nearly three hours at the crease in extremely tough conditions.