Matt Henry recorded the joint-third-best figures by a New Zealand bowler with a career-best 7 for 23, including three wickets in the same over, to dismiss South Africa for their lowest total against New Zealand and lowest in 23 Tests. On a seamer-friendly Christchurch surface, Henry made use of the movement and bounce and almost single-handedly bowled South Africa out for 95, their lowest total batting first since 1932. In so doing, Henry registered the best bowling figures against South Africa since 1915. And if the historical data is not enough to underline New Zealand’s dominance of the opening day, their top four wiped out the deficit inside 34 overs, and took the lead by the close of play.
The Test match got underway at midnight South African time and anyone who stayed up might have wondered if it was the team, and not them, who were sleep deprived. Not only did no-one score more than Zubayr Hamza’s 25 but they also dropped four chances in the field in an underwhelming showing, especially coming off their series win against India. South Africa are notorious slow starters and were made to look even slower by a clinical and energetic New Zealand side.
Henry, who did not play in New Zealand’s last five Tests and was a replacement for paternity leave absentee Trent Boult, set the tone when he nipped out three of the top four in the morning session. He returned after lunch to claim four more and leave South Africa shell-shocked.
His first incision was a big one, when he got rid of Dean Elgar in the 10th over of the morning. The South African captain reached away from his body to drive an outswinger and got a thick edge to third slip. Tim Southee, who had opened the bowling at the other end, took a diving catch to his left to dismiss Elgar for 1.
That left debutant Sarel Erwee, who was in because Keegan Petersen could not make the trip after contracting Covid-19, with Aiden Markram, the out-of-form opener now moved to No. 3. Erwee left well to start but grew more tentative and was eventually sent back when Kyle Jamieson, bowling first change, forced him to play at a short of a length delivery that he edged to Daryl Mitchell at first slip.
South Africa were 22 for 2 after 10 overs and New Zealand continued to pile on the pressure. Only five runs were scored in the next six overs and Markram seemed particularly vulnerable. He survived a tight lbw shout but soon enough, in trying to punch Henry off the back foot, he underestimated the movement on offer and was caught behind. Markram has not scored more than 16 runs in his last nine Test innings, dating back to June 2021.
Rassie van der Dussen was dismissed in the same over, squared up by a good length delivery that straightened on him and edged to third slip where Southee took another good catch. At 37 for 4, South Africa would have been pleased that they included an extra specialist batter in their XI. Hamza made a comeback after last playing Test cricket two years ago and even looked convincing for a while, pulling and driving Southee, but then Henry had him prodding at a back of a length ball without moving his feet and was caught behind.
That was Henry’s second session warm-up wicket. His main act came two overs later when he struck Kyle Verreynne on the knee roll with a full ball and New Zealand reviewed. Hawkeye showed the ball would go on to hit leg stump and Henry had his first Test five-for. Four balls later, Henry had Kagiso Rabada caught behind. Debutant Glenton Stuurman went the same way. South Africa were 88 for 8 and then 88 for 9 with Henry on a hat-trick. He didn’t get there and it was Wagner who ended the innings, with Duanne Olivier caught at second slip.
New Zealand began their reply positively but South Africa had an early opportunity to dent them when Stuurman, sharing the new ball in his first Test, induced a leading edge from Tom Latham but Marco Jansen, at gully, could not hold on.
Jansen made up for his mistake by dismissing Will Young in his first over and South Africa wrested back some control when Olivier bowled Latham with a scrambled seam delivery that hit the top of off stump. But then they let another chance go begging when Hamza dropped Henry Nicholls at third slip. The day kept drifting away from South Africa, a feeling amplified by Temba Bavuma shelling another chance when Nicholls cut Rabada to him at point.
Nicholls and Devon Conway put on a stand of 75 and take New Zealand into the lead but Olivier separated them when he bowled Conway off the inside-edge. That could have given South Africa some cheer at the end of a long day but van der Dussen dropped a late chance when nightwatchman Neil Wagner turned an Oliver delivery to him at short leg. Van der Dussen was not anticipating the chance and had to react quickly, but the ball hit him on the body and fell to the floor. A metaphor for South Africa’s day.