Henry Nicholls' eighth test century helped New Zealand to a 387-run, first-innings lead over South Africa on the second day of the first test Friday and the Proteas limped to stumps at 34-3 after a disastrous start to their second innings. (More Cricket News)
With additional contributions of 96 from wicketkeeper Tom Blundell, 45 from Colin de Grandhomme and 49 from South Africa-born Neil Wagner, who taunted his former countrymen as nightwatchman, New Zealand amassed 482 in reply to South Africa's first innings of 95.
Matt Henry, who took 7-23 on the first day, added to South Africa's discomfort with an innings of 58 at No. 11, joining a small company of players who have scored a half century and taken seven wickets in the same match. Henry and Blundell put on 96 for the last wicket to make New Zealand's advantage in the match comprehensive.
In a torturous spell of nine overs before stumps, South Africa's hopes of saving the match crumbled entirely. They lost Sarel Erwee to the second ball of the innings, Henry and Blundell combined to dismiss captain Dean Elgar without scoring and Aiden Markram was out for 2.
The Proteas were 4-3 before Temba Bavuma (22) and Rassie van der Dussen (9) steadied them before stumps at which they trailed by 353.
“If we can keep this momentum going, who knows? We can wrap it up tomorrow hopefully,” Blundell said.
The day was a great one for players often under-appreciated for their contributions to the New Zealand team.
Nicholls took time to establish himself in New Zealand's batting lineup after making a half century on debut against Australia in 2016. He wasn't until he made his maiden century against South Africa in 2017 than he became a regular part of New Zealand's middle order.
Still, he often has worked in the shadow of players such as Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor and Tom Latham. Even when he made 157 against Pakistan in January last year, he was upstaged by Williamson who made 238.
Batting mostly at No. 5 he has been reliable but not spectacular. His century on Friday, at No. 4 in Williamson's absence, was his fourth in his last 10 tests, his sixth innings of 50 or more in the same period.
Nicholls is not a florid stroke-maker. His gift is his doggedness and his best innings have often been produced when New Zealand needed them most. He bats out of a crouched stance and is at his best when he is given width and can produce the cut shot or square drive and score as he did on Friday on either side of point.
When he was out for 105 he had batted for 267 minutes or for almost 4 1-2 hours. His career-best 175 against the West Indies in 2020 was an innings of more than seven hours.
Nicholls' 80-run partnership for the third wicket with the Wagner dealt a heavy blow to South Africa's hopes of staying in the match after its poor first innings, its lowest-ever total against New Zealand.
The Black Caps resumed Friday at 116-3, just 21 ahead, and early wickets might have put them under pressure. But Wagner went on the offensive from the start, first targeting Kagiso Rabada with a series of boundaries behind point as he flung the bat. But he also played shots of quality, including a superb cover drive as he walked into a half volley.
Henry and Daryl Mitchell put on 48 for the next wicket as New Zealand incrementally built its advantage. Henry reached his century from 156 balls in 256 minutes and was out shortly afterwards when New Zealand was 273-6.
South Africa's ordeal in the field wasn't yet over. De Grandhomme and Kyle Jamieson put on 76 for the seventh wicket and the last-wicket stand between Tom Blundell and Henry was the last, bitter blow to their hopes as they fielded through the late afternoon and encroaching evening at Hagley Oval.