The final page of the first test between New Zealand and South Africa was left unwritten as rain washed out the last day’s play at the University Oval in Dunedin on Sunday.
After the first two days had finished basically all-square, South Africa took control of the test by posting 435 for five declared in their second innings, thanks to memorable centuries by Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and Jacques Rudolph.
That set New Zealand a highly unlikely 401 to win, with South Africa’s target of 10 wickets in four-and-a-half sessions more likely.
But the experienced pair of Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor had left the test interestingly poised after the fourth day as they took New Zealand to 137 for two. But there was to be no gripping finale as sheets of rain fell on the fourth night and continued on Sunday, with the test being called off an hour after lunch.
Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor batted through the final session to take New Zealand to 137 for two at stumps on the fourth day of the first test on Saturday.
The hosts will need to score a further 264 runs on what should be an absorbing final day.
After tea, there was just the one success for the Proteas, as legspinner Imran Tahir claimed the wicket of opening batsman Rob Nicol for 19 in the most fortunate of ways.
Having come through a torrid 90 minutes against the quick bowlers, Nicol’s concentration obviously wavered against the slow bowler and he bunted a dipping full toss to mid-on, where Graeme Smith moved to his left and took a low, tumbling catch.
New Zealand were 55 for two, but the class of McCullum and Taylor then shone through as they added 82 for the third wicket in 20.5 overs.
McCullum was the initial aggressor and the former wicketkeeper raced to his half-century off just 65 balls, the precision of his strokeplay, whether scoring in front of the wicket or behind, being most impressive.
The second half of the session belonged to Taylor as McCullum added just eight more runs to his tally from the last 26 balls he faced before the umpires took the players off for bad light 10 minutes before the close of play.
The skill and timing of the Kiwi captain, particularly through the off side, was in great evidence as Taylor stroked eight fours in his 48 not out off 68 balls.
The South African attack began to look innocuous on the stodgy pitch, with Dale Steyn clearly out of sorts and Tahir tending to bowl too full.
Vernon Philander looked the most threatening of the bowlers with consistent movement off the seam, while Morne Morkel hurried the batsmen with some fiery short-pitched bowling.
Jacques Rudolph and Vernon Philander were the shining lights as New Zealand reached tea on 27 for one on the fourth day of the first test against South Africa at the University Oval in Dunedin on Saturday.
Rudolph finished on 105 not out as South Africa declared their second innings on 435 for five, and finished the session well on top with New Zealand still 374 runs from a highly unlikely victory.
South Africa had resumed on 359 for five after lunch and Rudolph and Mark Boucher quickly got on with it. New Zealand were not able to stop them scoring at will as 76 runs were scored in 16 overs.
Canny left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori was the one bowler not to get collared, conceding just 65 runs in 32 overs through the innings.
South African captain Graeme Smith probably always intended to declare midway through the second session with a lead of around 400, but the timing worked so perfectly that Rudolph was able to notch his first test century since December 2005 against Australia in Perth.
Rudolph completed his sixth test century in four hours, off 177 balls, in a solid display of strokeplay, sweet timing and sound technique. Boucher also looked in solid form as he scored 34 not out with four boundaries.
South Africa had 11 overs at the New Zealand openers before tea and Philander struck the first blow by removing Martin Guptill, one of their key batsmen, for 6.
Guptill was out when he pushed half-forward to an away-swinger from the pace bowler and edged an easy catch to third slip.
Brendon McCullum had raced to 10 not out, with two fours, at the break, the same score opener Rob Nicol had laboured 38 balls to reach.
McCullum is a class batsman and will be a key wicket for South Africa to gain before the close of the fourth day.
South Africa lost the services of Jacques Kallis early on, but Jacques Rudolph carried them to 359 for five at lunch on the fourth day of the first test against New Zealand in Dunedin on Saturday.
Rudolph was the chief provider of runs as he took his overnight score of 13 to 59 not out and South Africa extended their lead to 324. The other not out batsman is Mark Boucher on five.
The search for quick runs was stymied to an extent by the early loss of Kallis, who was dismissed in the ninth over of the day when he flicked the lively left-armer, Trent Boult, straight to midwicket.
Kallis was out for 113, which included 16 beautiful boundaries, but the most impressive aspect of the innings was its construction. Kallis had come in when the loss of two wickets in an over had left South Africa reeling on an effective score of 12 for two, but the composure and sheer technical brilliance of the Proteas’ leading run-scorer carried him through a tricky start. He became more fluent as he gained the measure of the bowlers and the stodgy pitch and seemed set to up the run-rate again on the fourth morning when he was out.
AB de Villiers came in and it was obvious he had positive intentions as he welcomed Tim Southee by cutting him superbly through the covers for four.
But De Villiers had reached 29 when he heaved the part-time off-spin of Kane Williamson to cow corner and it was left to Rudolph to guide the target-setting effort.
The experienced left-hander breezed to his 11th test half-century and second of the match off 106 balls as he took to seamer Doug Bracewell with successive boundaries nine overs before lunch.
The game rather went to sleep after the dismissal of De Villiers, with Rudolph and Boucher content to make it to lunch and New Zealand just trying to restrict the number of runs scored. The players even had the cheek to wander off the field for lunch before umpire Aleem Dar had even called time!