Rain forces early finish to first Test

Rain settled the issue as the first test between the BLACKCAPS and South Africa suffered a soggy ending in Dunedin.

The victory aspirations of both teams were left unfulfilled after constant overnight rain and continuing showers meant no play was possible on the scheduled fifth day at University Oval.

Officials made the call to abandon the test at 2pm, and the resulting draw sees both teams head to Hamilton for the second test starting on Thursday contemplating potential personnel changes after a match of fluctuating fortunes in Dunedin.

Both sides had cause to fancy their chances at University Oval, with New Zealand primed to resume at 137 for two in their second innings, still 264 short of their victory target of 401.

With Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor settled on 58 and 48 respectively, the hosts were hoping for these two to press on and apply some pressure against a South African team needing to win the three-match series 3-0 to improve to No 1 on the International Cricket Council’s test rankings list.

Both teams emerged with credit despite the drawn result, South Africa from amassing 435 for five declared in their second innings after centuries to skipper Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and the recalled Jacques Rudolph.

New Zealand, too, saw enough positives to contemplate the remainder of the series with some confidence, as they doggedly stuck to the world’s No 2-ranked test side through 12 sessions as fortunes ebbed and flowed.

Veteran fast bowler Chris Martin’s three wickets in four balls during the tourists’ first innings of 238 proved his enduring ability to remove the very best of batsmen while young seamer Doug Bracewell took five wickets in the match and continued to impress in elite company.

McCullum and Taylor also both passed 40 twice in the match and new wicketkeeper Kruger van Wyk made a seamless transition to the top level on debut.

Van Wyk was tidy behind the stumps and dogged with bat in hand, giving the selectors faith in the knowledge they have two viable options for the wicketkeeping position when the previous incumbent BJ Watling returns to full fitness.

Day 4: Match in the balance at Uni Oval

South Africa looked to tighten the screws but have been met with some staunch resistance by the BLACKCAPS in the first Test in Dunedin.

New Zealand ended the fourth and penultimate day at University Oval on 137 for two in their second innings, with key batsmen Ross Taylor and Brendon McCullum still with crucial roles to play, after being set a target of 401 to win the opening game of the three-match series.

While still 264 short with eight wickets in hand, there is a record challenge confronting the New Zealanders with the country’s highest successful test runchase was 324 for five against Pakistan in Christchurch in 1994, and their highest fourth innings of 451 was in a losing cause against England in Christchurch in 2002.

Much will rest on the shoulders of skipper Taylor and McCullum, who will resume tomorrow on 48 and 58 respectively after both looked comfortable in an unbroken third wicket partnership which realised 82 runs before poor light forced a close four overs before the scheduled end of the day.

The home team suffered an early setback when Martin Guptill was nicked out by the very impressive Vernon Philander before Morne Morkel gave Rob Nicol a thorough working over, striking the debutant twice and having the right-hander ill at ease with his pace and lift.

Nicol knuckled down to see his way through a difficult period only to be mortified when he departed in the softest of fashions after battling over 89 minutes for 19.

Having seen off Morkel, Nicol was presented with a harmless full toss from legspinner Imran Tahir which he mishit to mid on, leaving his team at 55 for two.

McCullum, who was positive from the moment he strode to the middle, was in control from the outset en route to his 21st test half-century, getting under way by cutting Dale Steyn to the boundary before leg glancing Morkel to fine leg for four more.

He struck the ball cleanly, as did Taylor, and both refused to go into their shells as they gave the hosts hope of at least saving the game.

South Africa had taken a stranglehold on the test on the third day when centurymakers Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis put on a third wicket partnership of 200.

Resuming this morning on 268 for three, they lost Kallis early for 113 but were then superbly served by Jacques Rudolph who produced an unbeaten 105, the third century of the innings, before skipper Smith declared at the afternoon drinks break at 435 for five.

Rudolph, a 30-year-old left-hander, began today on 13 and progressed to his sixth test century on the back of a very attractive, well paced innings that featured 15 fours and a lone six, over long on off left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori.

He drove the ball beautifully, particularly through the covers, and used deflections to keep the runs ticking over after Kallis clipped a ball from left-arm seamer Trent Boult to Nicol in front of square leg.

AB de Villiers looked at ease in making 29 before he attempted to up the tempo before lunch only to locate McCullum at deep mid wicket then wicketkeeper Mark Boucher helped Rudolph add an unbroken 82 for the sixth wicket.

Boucher’s share was 34 not out, but it was Rudolph who dominated, making everything look easy as he passed three figures at the top level for the first time since scoring 102 not out against Australia in Perth in December, 2005.

Seamer Doug Bracewell ended with the best figures of three for 70 off 25 overs, occasional offspinner Kane Williamson picked up a cheap wicket thanks to de Villiers’ finding McCullum in the deep and Vettori was tight without being threatening in conceding just 65 runs from his 32 overs.

Day 3: Sth Africa take control in Dunedin

South Africa have imposed themselves on the first test in Dunedin to force the BLACKCAPS on to the defensive in Dunedin.

They did so through the sterling efforts of stalwarts Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis, who shared a third wicket partnership of 200 runs to guide their team to 268 for three in their second innings by stumps on the third day.

That left the tourists in the box seat, leading overall by 233 runs as the match enters its fourth day.

Skipper Smith was doggedness personified as he grafted diligently for 115 while master technician Kallis responded to his first innings duck with an imperious 107 not out full of majestic drives.

Their stubborn resistance blossomed into gradual dominance as they rebuilt the South African innings which had faltered at 47 for two before lunch, at which stage their overall lead stood at 12 runs.

Seamer Doug Bracewell had made a double breakthrough for New Zealand by removing opener Alviro Petersen and Hashim Amla in the 12th over.

Petersen’s expansive approach backfired when he hit Bracewell directly to Tim Southee at mid off after making 25 while Amla had not had time to settle before an edge to second slip saw Martin Guptill pull off an outstanding catch low to his right.

New Zealand could sniff blood at this point but they were unable to inflict any more damage until 40 minutes before stumps when Bracewell returned with the second new ball to end Smith’s 24th test century after six hours of attention to detail.

Smith, a craggy left-hander full of determined purpose, and the classy Kallis boasted more than 20,000 test runs between them entering this match and their combined experience of 246 tests was put to good use as they clinically played their team into a position of considerable strength.

Kallis spent close to an hour stuck in the 90s and watched Smith depart when bowled by Bracewell off an inside edge before reaching three figures himself for the 42nd time at this level.

By the close he had been in the middle for 339 minutes and struck 15 fours, a tally he will look to build on tomorrow when he resumes with Jacques Rudolph on 13.

Left-hander Rudolph was fortunate to survive the day after Pakistani umpire Aleem Dar upheld a Bracewell appeal for leg before wicket late in the piece, only for the decision to be overturned on review when replays showed the ball pitching just outside leg stump.

Bracewell was the pick of the bowlers, completing his day’s work with figures of three for 53 off 18 overs while left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori was treated with respect while giving up just 34 runs from his 19 overs.

The day had started full of promise for New Zealand, who resumed at 243 for nine and holding a lead of five runs.

That was quickly extended to 35 when Trent Boult took the long handle to Vernon Philander, carting the hugely impressive South African seamer for 22 runs in four balls in the second over.

Boult dispatched him over long on for six, down the ground for four then twice over mid wicket for more sixes in a scintillating cameo which left him not out on 33 off 28 balls when tailender Chris Martin was dismissed.

Martin, who scored five courtesy of an overthrow which went for four, could not keep down a ball from pace bowler Dale Steyn and spooned an easy catch to Amla under the helmet.

Day 2: BLACKCAPS fight their way to a slim lead

The BLACKCAPS scrapped and clawed their way to parity with South Africa when the first Test continued in Dunedin today.

New Zealand reached stumps on the second day at University Oval on 243 for nine in their first innings, a lead of five runs after they dismissed the tourists this morning for 238.

An absorbing day of ebbing fortunes ended with both sides fancying their chances to go 1-0 up in the three-match series from a test that will be decided in favour of whichever team performs the best in the second innings.

The New Zealanders underwent a thorough examination as the vaunted South African bowling attack asked serious questions of both their technique and ticker on a day which saw 12 wickets fall.

The hosts at one stage appeared in control after Brendon McCullum and captain Ross Taylor manoeuvred them into a promising position at 106 for two but neither pushed on after becoming established.

These two battled through some trying moments, particularly Taylor, who was struck three times on the body by fast bowler Morne Morkel while still settling in, following the removal of openers Rob Nicol and Martin Guptill.

Nicol, on debut, made just six before edging behind while Guptill, after spending 68 minutes over his 16, departed in the first over after lunch when Morkel bowled him via an inside edge.

McCullum and Taylor then began what developed into one of only three partnerships of note, putting on 65 for the third wicket in a dogged, determined display.

Unfortunately for their team, neither converted their stays into innings of substance, with McCullum top edging an attempted sweep off legspinner Imran Tahir to leave the middle for 48, featuring six fours over 149 minutes.

In his first innings for more than a month after suffering a calf muscle injury, Taylor knuckled down before producing some excellent strokes to reach 46.

But after carving Morkel twice through the covers for four Taylor found the temptation too strong when he slashed at a wide, short offering only to gift an edge to slip.

Taylor’s dismissal left New Zealand at 116 for four, which then became 135 for five when Kane Williamson became the impressive Vernon Philander’s second wicket  from an edge behind.

Two 32-year-olds in Daniel Vettori and debutant Kruger van Wyk steadied the ship to put on 53 for the sixth wicket before former captain Vettori scooped a return catch to Jacques Kallis.

Vettori had found the boundary eight times in 107 minutes for his 46 and left van Wyk and Doug Bracewell to drag their side towards the South African total with another dogged stand which realised 41 runs for the seventh wicket.

Wicketkeeper van Wyk, a former South African, showed his resourcefulness at the crease and was particularly strong square of the wicket as he made 36 in 129 minutes before Philander induced another edge behind.

Bracewell, too, mixed cautious defence with some adventurism to contribute 25 in more than an hour only to be bowled by Dale Steyn in the day’s penultimate over.

The New Zealanders would have been mightily impressed at their first look at Philander, a hustling fast-medium bowler who took 30 wickets in his first four tests against Australia and Sri Lanka.

He proved a handful, particularly with the new ball, maintaining a tight line which gave the batsmen little respite.

Philander had the best figures of four for 50 off 17 overs while Tahir was much better than his return of one for 55 off 24 suggested.

The legspinner displayed excellent control, managed to extract turn from a second day surface and revealed an accurate googly which he used often.

New Zealand had started the day encouragingly when they wrapped up South Africa’s first innings by claiming the last three wickets for the addition of 47 runs after the resumption was delayed due to wet patches in the outfield.

Fast bowler Chris Martin collected his fourth wicket of the innings when Philander chased a wide, short offering to present a catch at gully for 22 while Jacques Rudolph, on 46 overnight, raised his half-century before falling for 52 when he directed a ball from Bracewell to Trent Boult at point.

The innings closed when Tahir was run out seeking a third run, caught short of his ground by a fine throw from the deep by Vettori.

Martin, who fired up the home side by claiming three wickets in the space of four balls on the first day, ended the innings with figures of four for 56 off 18 overs while Bracewell took two for 52 and left-arm spinner Vettori demanded the utmost respect while earning one for 31 off 15.

Day 1: Martin inspires NZ fightback

The tea break proved a tonic before a Chris Martin-inspired fight back left the BLACKCAPS to savour the first day spoils in the first test against South Africa today.

The tourists ended a truncated day on 189 for seven at a chilly University Oval in Dunedin after earlier threatening to make New Zealand captain Ross Taylor pay a heavy price for choosing to field first.

South Africa were sitting pretty at 86 for one at tea following a late start when rain and its remnants did not allow the match to begin until 2.15pm.

Following an unthreatening effort in the first session the New Zealanders suddenly had a spring in their step immediately after the resumption when the clouds parted, the sun shone ever so briefly and the indefatigable Martin went a long way to deciding the day’s honours in a withering spell.

He took three wickets in the space of four balls as South Africa fell to 90 for four, removing the princely trio of captain Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers in several blinks of the eye.

Smith, who showed his tradesman’s abilities to score 56 in the session to tea, did not get the chance to add to his tally, being beaten by Martin twice outside his off stumps in the first over following the resumption before being served a wider ball inviting punishment.

Smith attempted to do just that but succeeded only in slapping the ball straight to debutant Rob Nicol at short cover.

Thirty-seven-year-old Martin then extracted some extra bounce to square up Kallis in his next over, the result being a high edge to a tumbling Taylor at first slip, before the very next ball nipped back to trap de Villiers on the creaseline leg before wicket.

All of a sudden New Zealand had lifted and they maintained the intensity despite Hashim Amla scoring a quality 62 and Jacques Rudolph being left to carry the tourists’ hopes tomorrow when he resumes on 46.

Martin’s second spell earned him three for 16 off six overs and he ended today with three for 34 off 14, while left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori and hustling seamer Doug Bracewell did good jobs for Taylor also.

Vettori had an absorbing battle with Amla and he tied down the bearded first drop early on before the South African responded by dancing down the pitch and depositing one offering way over the long on fence.

But it was Vettori who had the last say as he cut short Amla’s stay after 149 minutes when an attempted cut saw a thin edge balloon off the gloves of wicketkeeper Kruger van Wyk to a grateful Taylor. 

Bracewell struck in the field before he had an influence with the ball, helping remove Mark Boucher for four via a run out when a smart gather and throw caught the wicketkeeper short of his ground.

Bracewell ended the wicket-taking action by shaping a ball away from Dale Steyn, catching the edge of the bat and seeing Taylor take his third catch by reacting quickly when second slip Martin Guptill spilled the initial offering.

Rudolph and Vernon Philander saw out the next 10 overs without further mishap but there was no denying which camp was the happier at the end of an intriguing day.

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