De Swardt leads South Africa fightback after Rachin’s three-for

South Africa

South Africa 220 for 6 (de Swardt 55*, Bedingham 39, Ravindra 3-33) vs New Zealand

Ruan de Swardt and Shaun von Berg dug deep to pull South Africa out of a hole on a typically attritional day of Test cricket. New Zealand’s seamers prised out the top-order batters and were economical. Rachin Ravindra found purchase and dismantled the middle order but the numbers 7 and 8 were resilient saw off 27 overs in the extended final session.

The day started with captain Neil Brand springing a surprise at the toss by batting first on a grassy pitch and going with two spinners. “All the wickets have been green and it tends to burn off after a couple of days,” he said. South Africa, repeating their feat from 2017 (https://stats.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/stats/index.html?batting_fielding_first=1;class=1;filter=advanced;ground=504;groupby=match;orderby=start;spanmin1=13+Feb+2014;spanval1=span;template=results;toss=1;type=team), are the only side to have done it in the last ten years at Hamilton.

In contrast, New Zealand went with four seamers, including captain Tim Southee, who said he’d have bowled first if they’d won the toss. The hosts brought in Will Young in place of the injured Daryl Mitchell. Neil Wagner came in for Mitchell Santner, and William O’Rourke was handed a debut as Kyle Jamieson pulled up sore after the first Test.

Clyde Fortuin’s promotion to the top didn’t pay off as he bagged a golden duck. He flashed on the up against Matt Henry and Glenn Phillips took a one-handed stunner at gully. Henry troubled the batters with seam movement and Southee found swing but Brand and Raynard van Tonder left the ball confidently and weren’t bogged down by the ball occasionally beating them.

Brand capitalised on overpitched balls with aesthetically pleasing punches through the offside. O’Rourke, the debutant brought on in the ninth over, was at the receiving end a couple of times, but he got a length ball to nip back past the inside edge and pin the skipper in front of middle.

Zubayr Hamza started cautiously and was given lbw when he shouldered arms to a length ball angling in Neil Wagner’s first over. Hamza reviewed successfully with ball tracking suggesting that it would go over the stumps.

Hamza was resolute in defence but couldn’t rotate strike. Southee and Wagner held onto their discipline and gave away just five runs between the 21st and the 25th over. Wagner then telegraphed the short-ball plan by pushing the fielders to the deep on the leg side. He hit the deck, angled it outside off and got spongy bounce off the pitch but van Tonder couldn’t ride the bounce and ended up fending it to Tom Latham at gully. The third wicket tilted the session in the hosts’ favour.

The second session played out like an exercise in psychology as David Bedingham and Hamza were ready to blunt out the bowling despite the runs coming to a standstill. Henry and O’Rourke held their lines and lengths, Ravindra, brought on in the 36th over, started his spell with four maidens.

The ball was beating bat every now and again and the shots, when middled, went straight to the fielders. From overs 31 to 44, South Africa scored 12 runs and the duo collectively had 33 runs in 154 balls.

However, two overs later, Hamza’s patience was swiped across the line, as was the loopy wide ball from Ravindra, and – out of nowhere – Hamza holed out to backward point for a 99-ball 20. Ravindra then extended Keegan Petersen’s poor run of form by having him push out at a length ball and caught at slip.

It was a case of dots or boundaries from then till tea but de Swardt’s proactivity followed by solidity in defence was a rare positive that South Africa could take from a frustrating session.

More to follow

Ekanth is a sub-editor with ESPNcricinfo

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