Amla was gifted a leg-glance to the fine-leg fence to ease him into his innings, but it wasn’t long before the offside repertoire was humming happily as well. A back-foot stroke through the covers was more unwound, than punched or played, while two cuts either side of point disappeared to the boundary before the fielder had budged, much less moved, to intercept the shot. He was beaten soundly twice on the inside edge, but didn’t allow either ball to dent his positivity, dispatching Dean Brownlie for three commanding boundaries in the same over he went past 50.
But the languid nature of Amla’s strokeplay was increasingly matched by the slowness of his movement in the middle – perhaps hampered by a ball he’d edged onto his groin early on – and he perished playing an uncharacteristically flat-footed pull off Mark Gillespie soon after tea.
Alviro Petersen was reserved in comparison, often finding sprightly fielders when he played full-blooded shots, but content to defend nonetheless. He had struggled with the ball that came into him, falling to it thrice in four innings so far in the series, but navigated Chris Martin’s inswingers with more poise on this occasion, dabbing it straight against the early movement. He charged Daniel Vettori to loft him over the ropes before leaning back to blast him through square leg as tea approached, but they were rare shows of violence in a dour display.
New Zealand had started well through Martin and Doug Bracewell, but waned in threat as the movement steadily gave out despite their discipline. Gillespie could find neither the direction nor the pace that decimated South Africa’s middle order in the first innings in Hamilton, and was lucky to claim Amla with a short, wide ball. That wicket breathed some edge into the New Zealand attack in the nine overs after tea, but Duminy only helped himself to some quick runs into the vacant outfield with the bowlers attacking.
Early in the day’s play, New Zealand’s first wicket was marred somewhat by controversy. Martin beat Smith’s outside edge repeatedly with movement in the air and off the pitch, but it was the other edge that brought the batsman’s demise, even though Smith felt he had not made contact. Aleem Dar and New Zealand were convinced ball brushed the willow when Bracewell brought one in past Smith’s cover drive, but despite a review from the batsman, and Hot Spot showing nothing, Dar’s decision was upheld.