Defending just 238, South Africa managed to suppress the determined New Zealand’s batsmen’s push for a sizeable first-innings lead with a wonderfully disciplined and skilful display of bowling. A relentless line just outside off stump would give birth to a host of chances and there was also a controlled spell of leg-spin by Imran Tahir and good catching behind the wicket to complete a fine day for the tourists.
New Zealand’s last two batsmen – Trent Boult and Chris Martin – are at the crease and, with the lead just five runs, there is nothing to separate the two teams heading for the halfway mark.
The Black Caps had resumed after tea on 144 for five and Daniel Vettori and Kruger van Wyk, playing in his first test, gave little away as they added 53 for the sixth wicket.
The ball was 68 overs old and nothing much seemed to be happening for South Africa when captain Graeme Smith called his regular partnership-breaker, Jacques Kallis, into the attack. The Golden Arm once again did the trick, inducing a nothing-shot by Vettori and a return catch, which Kallis had to dash forward and dive to take.
Vettori might not look particularly stylish at the crease, but the left-hander is mightily effective as he showed in scoring 46 off 78 balls, with eight fours.
The South African-born Van Wyk battled on for over two hours, scoring 36 before Vernon Philander, armed with the second new ball, duped him into pushing at a delivery outside off stump, edging a low catch to Smith at first slip.
Tim Southee was easily dispatched by Philander as he lamely wafted at his second ball and was also caught by Smith at first slip, for a duck.
Doug Bracewell played an invaluable role in giving New Zealand the lead as he scored 25, before he was bowled by an inspired delivery from Dale Steyn that pitched on middle-and-leg before crashing into off-stump.
Philander was the most successful of the South African attack with 4-50 in 17 overs, but all the bowlers played a part in a fine all-round performance with the ball.
South Africa had removed dangermen Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor in quick succession to reduced New Zealand to 144 for five at tea.
McCullum and Taylor were the third and fourth wickets to fall, for 48 and 44 respectively, the double strike turning the tide back in favour of the South Africans after New Zealand’s two premier batsmen had added 65.
Morne Morkel has suffered mixed fortunes this year, but the lanky fast bowler set the tone with a marvellous burst straight after lunch, starting with the wicket of Martin Guptill for 16 with his fifth ball after the break.
Guptill was way too late with a tentative prod outside off stump and succeeded only in edging the ball back into his own stumps, and Morkel then piled on the pressure, with able support from Philander and Tahir, on to McCullum and Taylor.
But they batted with tremendous discipline and positive footwork and the momentum was New Zealand’s as they carried the hosts to 106 for two.
It was the leg-spin of Tahir that eventually made the crucial breakthrough, the persevering former Pakistani gratefully accepting the return catch after McCullum top-edged a sweep.
Morkel’s worst ball of the day – a dreadful short, wide delivery, brought its award, however, as Taylor edged a flatfooted cut through to wicketkeeper Mark Boucher.
Philander’s unrelenting accuracy and remorseless probing did for Kane Williamson (11), who edged a back-foot drive for Boucher to take his second catch.
McCullum and Guptill had defied the best of the South African bowlers as they steered New Zealand to 40 for one at lunch.
Guptill and McCullum were proudly obdurate as they shrugged off the early loss of Rob Nicol to survive the next dozen overs before lunch without being parted, adding 33 for the second wicket off 76 balls.
South Africa had earlier been dismissed for 238 in their first innings on a sunny, but still chilly, day on the South Island.
The visitors had resumed on 191 for seven and Jacques Rudolph completed a tenacious half-century in two-and-a-half hours as he and Philander brought up the 200.
The useful eighth-wicket partnership had grown to 35 when Martin, the hero of the first day, removed Philander for 22. The potential all-rounder was just beginning to up the tempo when Williamson did very well to hang on to a full-blooded cut in the gully. The wicket gave Martin final figures of 4-56 in 18 overs.
Rudolph, the star of the South African innings for his determination if nothing else, then followed a widish delivery from Bracewell (2-52) and edged it to point, falling for 52 off 99 balls.
Morkel (13*) and Tahir (10) then added another 16 runs for the last wicket before Tahir was run out trying for a crazy third run, but both bowlers did more important work with the ball in the afternoon.
New Zealand’s batsmen had 16 overs to face before lunch and the test-match edition of Guptill showed an admirably straight bat and strong defensive technique as he reached 16 not out at the break.
South Africa did pick up the wicket of his fellow opener Nicol for six in the fourth over. Philander was bowling an immaculate line just outside off stump and seaming the ball both ways, so the debutant Nicol obviously had to play at the shortish delivery that dismissed him, a touch of away movement finding the edge of the bat and presenting Smith with the easiest of catches at first slip.