Black Caps crumble against South Africa

New Zealand's Tom Latham walks off after being dismissed by South Africa's Dane Piedt. Photo: Getty Images
New Zealand's Tom Latham walks off after being dismissed by South Africa's Dane Piedt. Photo: Getty Images
New Zealand are in danger of once more squandering the opportunity to win a maiden test series against South Africa.

This wasted chance would be far worse than the last.

After cruising to victory over the second-string Proteas last week, the Black Caps’ bid to repeat that result hit a serious hurdle at Seddon Park on Wednesday, the batting order crumbling in scarcely believable style.

The hosts were fortunate to reach even 211 before being dismissed to bring stumps on day two, left facing a shortfall of 31 after earlier bowling out their opponents for 242.

Having muddled their way through a first turn with the bat, vast improvement will soon be needed to save this test and claim the series.

South Africa offspinner Dane Piedt - who boasts 26 test wickets and played his last match in 2019 - capitalised on favourable conditions to snare 5-89 and must already be eager to bowl at the Black Caps in the fourth innings.

If Piedt and his teammates can build a total of significance to defend, they will be confident of playing spoiler in the same fashion as the first-choice team two years ago.

In that series at Hagley Oval, the Black Caps romped to an innings victory in the first test, history within their grasp. But seeking a first series triumph in almost a century of competition, the hosts then fell to a 198-run defeat.

That was the fifth time New Zealand had failed to clinch the series in a rubber match against the Proteas. This would mark an excruciating sixth.

The first-test romp enjoyed by Tim Southee’s side had been anticipated from the moment South Africa announced such an understrength squad. There seemed a chasm in quality between the teams and no reason to believe that would change in a week.

Yet South Africa’s obstinance with the bat has been matched by dominance with the ball, their bowlers ripping through the Black Caps with a level of ease that will raise Australian eyebrows ahead of a two-test battle starting later this month.

After debutant Will O’Rourke wrapped up the tourists’ innings with career-best first-class figures of 4-59, New Zealand began with the unfortunately familiar sight of Devon Conway making an early departure.

The opener’s outside edge was found by Dane Paterson for a three-ball duck before Tom Latham (40) and Kane Williamson (43) established an innings-high 74-run stand, the former adding valuable runs to a recent barren run.

South Africa, who included two spinners while the hosts omitted Mitchell Santner, turned to spin from both ends and Piedt pounced on a couple of errors to remove both senior batters.

Rachin Ravindra (29) and the recalled Will Young (36) added what eventually counted as a useful 59, but the departure of first-test double centurion Ravindra triggered a hasty collapse. On 145-3, the Black Caps lost their next six wickets for 38 runs, batters playing on, holing out and miscuing big hits.

No 10 Neil Wagner played with more assurance than his many of his specialist teammates, launching a couple of towering sixes to complement three boundaries in a 27-ball cameo of 33.

His runs were required, closing the deficit in a 10th-wicket stand of 28 with O’Rourke, but the Black Caps would be worried by just how vital that contribution could prove, now facing a pivotal chase before the world champions arrive.

With No 5 Daryl Mitchell’s fitness in doubt - coach Gary Stead last week said there were no guarantees this period of rest would cure his ailing foot - and the allrounder’s role at No 7 in flux, the form of Tom Blundell has become a growing concern.

His dismissal today for four was the seventh in single figures among his last 10 test innings and since making 138 and 90 against England last summer, he boasts a high score of 17no in that span.

The wicketkeeper is the only survivor from last season’s preferred 4-7 combination, when he was joined by Henry Nicholls, Mitchell and Michael Bracewell - and the importance of Williamson at No 3 has never been greater.

His wicket will be treated as gold by the canary yellow.