Hashim Amla ground out a patient century to give South Africa the advantage on the first day of the second and final Test against New Zealand at St George’s Park on Friday.
Amla made 106 not out as South Africa reached 325-4 by the close of play.
The hosts were made to work for their runs against a determined New Zealand team on a slow pitch on which the batsmen seldom looked completely in control. However, an unbeaten century partnership between Amla and Faf du Plessis (69 not out), with some free scoring after tea, put South Africa well ahead.
“They bowled really well up front and asked a lot of questions,” said AB de Villiers, who made 51 in one of three significant partnerships involving Amla. “The ball was swinging nicely and we felt we were under a bit of pressure. But Hashim and Faf had a really good partnership and put us in a strong position.”
New Zealand left-arm bowler Neil Wagner, who was born in South Africa, said: “It was a very tough day. The wicket was a bit slow. After lunch we bowled really well and got a couple of wickets that put us back in the game. But we let it slip towards the end. Against a good side like South Africa you have to be patient and create more opportunities by stringing a lot of good balls together for longer periods of time.”
Amla survived on 48 when he cut hard at Trent Boult and Kane Williamson could not hold a sharp chance at gully. Amla reached his half-century in the same over off 92 deliveries with his seventh four. The only boundary in his second half-century was the cut off Boult which raised his 19th Test century after another 95 balls.
Amla was involved in partnerships of 92 for the second wicket with captain Graeme Smith and 86 for the fourth wicket with de Villiers. Du Plessis took the majority of the strike in his partnership with Amla, facing 112 of the 173 balls the pair needed to add 102 runs, with Amla content to push the ball into gaps, taking ones and twos as he ensured he did not take risks on a day when lapses of concentration contributed to all four wickets.
Du Plessis had an escape in the first over with the second new ball with his score on 42 when a ball from Boult flicked his thigh pad and went through to wicketkeeper BJ Watling. An appeal for caught behind was turned down by umpire Ian Gould and the New Zealanders did not seek a review. A “hot spot” replay showed the ball had brushed his bottom glove before deflecting off his thigh pad.
It was a pitch on which both batsmen and bowlers needed to exercise patience and for much of the day there was a spirited performance by New Zealand, who lost the first Test in Cape Town by an innings and 27 runs inside three days. Their bowlers responded to a call by captain Brendon McCullum to show aggression and there were numerous short-pitched deliveries when the ball was still relatively new.
Smith was struck on the helmet by Doug Bracewell in the fourth over.
Bracewell was the pick of the New Zealand bowlers, taking 2-70 in 21 overs. He took the first wicket when Alviro Petersen (21) top-edged a pull to fine leg and had South African kingpin Jacques Kallis caught behind for 8.
Smith, who won the toss and decided to bat, made 54 before he was caught down the leg side by Watling off the bowling of Wagner.