After bowling the visitors out for their lowest total batting first since 1932, New Zealand took the lead.
New Zealand (Nicholls 37, Wagner 2) leads South Africa (Hamza 25, Henry 7-23) by 21 runs with a total of 116 for 3 (Nicholls 37, Wagner 2).
With a career-best 7 for 23, including three wickets in the same over, Matt Henry bowled the joint-third-best figures by a New Zealand bowler, dismissing South Africa for their lowest total against New Zealand and in 23 Tests. Henry took advantage of the movement and bounce on a seamer-friendly Christchurch surface to bowl South Africa out for 95, their lowest total batting first since 1932. Henry set the best bowling figures against South Africa since 1915 in the process. If the historical data isn’t enough to convince you of New Zealand’s dominance on the first day, consider this: their top four wiped out the deficit in 34 overs and took the lead by the end of play.
The Test match began at midnight South African time, and those who stayed up late may have wondered if the team, rather than themselves, was sleep deprived. Not only did no one score more than Zubayr Hamza’s 25, but they also missed four fielding opportunities in an underwhelming performance, especially after their series victory over India. South Africa are notoriously slow starters, and a clinical and energetic New Zealand side made them look even slower.
Henry, who had not played in New Zealand’s last five Tests and was filling in for Trent Boult, who was on paternity leave, set the tone in the morning session when he nipped out three of the top four. After lunch, he returned to claim four more, leaving South Africa stunned.
When he got rid of Dean Elgar in the tenth over of the morning, he made a big incision. The South African captain drove an outswinger away from his body and got a thick edge to third slip. Tim Southee, who had opened the bowling at the other end, dismissed Elgar for 1 with a diving catch to his left.
Aiden Markram, the out-of-form opener, was moved to No. 3 to make room for debutant Sarel Erwee, who was in because Keegan Petersen was unable to travel due to Covid-19. Erwee started well but became jittery and was eventually sent back when Kyle Jamieson, bowling first change, forced him to play at a short of a length delivery, which he edged to first slip Daryl Mitchell.
After 10 overs, South Africa were 22 for 2 and New Zealand kept piling on the pressure. In the next six overs, only five runs were scored, and Markram appeared to be particularly vulnerable. He escaped a tight lbw call, but soon after, in attempting to punch Henry off the back foot, he misjudged the movement available and was caught behind. Since June 2021, Markram has not scored more than 16 runs in any of his last nine Test innings.
In the same over, Rassie van der Dussen was dismissed, squared up by a good length delivery that straightened on him and edged to third slip, where Southee took another excellent catch. South Africa would have been pleased that they included an extra specialist batter in their XI, as they finished on 37 for 4. Hamza made a strong comeback after not playing Test cricket for two years, pulling and driving Southee, but he was caught behind when Henry had him prodding at a back of a length ball without moving his feet.
Henry’s second warm-up wicket came in the second session. Two overs later, he struck Kyle Verreynne on the knee roll with a full ball, prompting New Zealand to review. Hawkeye demonstrated that the ball would go on to hit leg stump, giving Henry his first Test five-wicket haul. Henry had Kagiso Rabada caught behind after four balls. Glenton Stuurman, a rookie, followed suit. With Henry on a hat-trick, South Africa were 88 for 8 and then 88 for 9. He didn’t make it, and Wagner ended the inning by catching Duanne Olivier at second slip.
New Zealand started well, but South Africa had an early chance to put them in trouble when Stuurman, sharing the new ball for the first time, induced a leading edge from Tom Latham, but Marco Jansen at gully couldn’t hold on.
Jansen made amends in his first over by dismissing Will Young, and South Africa regained control when Olivier bowled Latham with a scrambled seam delivery that hit the top of off stump. They then squandered another opportunity when Hamza dropped Henry Nicholls at third slip. Temba Bavuma squandered another chance when Nicholls cut Rabada to him at point, adding to the feeling that the day was slipping away from South Africa.
Nicholls and Devon Conway put on a 75-run partnership to put New Zealand in front, but Olivier split them when he bowled Conway off the inside-edge. That could have given South Africa some hope at the end of a long day, but van der Dussen squandered a late opportunity when nightwatchman Neil Wagner turned an Oliver delivery to him at short leg. Van der Dussen had not anticipated the opportunity and had to react quickly, but the ball struck him in the body and knocked him to the ground. A metaphor for the current state of affairs in South Africa.