The Standard Bank Proteas endured their toughest day of their tour to New Zealand after a superb unbeaten century from Kane Williamson on day three of the third and final Test took the hosts to stumps on 321/4 at Seddon Park in Hamilton on Monday.
The Black Caps’ captain made 148 (216 balls, 14 fours, 3 sixes) and batted for most of the day alongside Jeet Raval, who struck a career-best 88 (254 balls, 10 fours), taking their side to the close with a seven-run lead.
The pair came together in the seventh over of the morning, which was delayed by around an hour due to a wet outfield caused by overnight rain.
This followed after Morne Morkel became the sixth South African to take 250 Test wickets when he got rid of Tom Latham for 50 (103 balls, 10 fours) thanks to a brilliant one-handed catch by Quinton de Kock.
But the two New Zealanders were then together right until 14 overs from the end as they amassed 190 for the second wicket – the highest second wicket stand and third highest overall against South Africa.
However, when the partnership was eventually broken with around an hour to go, the tourists hit back with three late wickets to ensure they were still in with a shout heading into day four.
Standing between them, however, was New Zealand skipper Williamson, who became the quickest player from his country to reach 5000 runs and also the joint-highest centurion maker thanks to his 17th ton, which put him alongside Martin Crowe.
But there was an opening at the other end after the pick of the bowlers Morkel (2/74) removed Raval late in the day having earlier followed in the footsteps of Shaun Pollock (421), Dale Steyn (417), Makhaya Ntini (390), Allan Donald (330) and Jacques Kallis (291) to cross the 250 wicket mark.
Kagiso Rabada (2/83) followed that with a double of his own when he dislodged Neil Broom (12) and Henry Nicholls (0) with successive deliveries.
Vernon Philander subsequently bowled Mitchell Santner, but he overstepped and was no-balled. The visitors will nevertheless take plenty of heart going into the remainder of the game.