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Erwee 108 gives South Africa opening day edge

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Aged 32, playing his second Test match after a very forgettable debut the previous week, in a country and against a bowling attack, both of whom don't treat opening batsmen too kindly. The deck wasn't so much stacked against Sarel Erwee as it was competing with Kyle Jamieson in height. But by his side stood Dean Elgar, the captain who talks a tough game and is unafraid to walk it. Here, Elgar opted to bat first on a ground his side was rolled over for 95 and 111 in the previous Test and his bold decision was just the catalyst Erwee needed to fight his way to a maiden Test century. On the coattails of his 108, South Africa took to Stumps a score of 238 for 3 as well as the first day honours.

Erwee struck 14 boundaries in an innings of 221 balls. Half of them were off-drives hit either side of the mid-off fielder. The trick was in how he always brought the bat down on top of the ball and never tried to overhit. Most importantly, in what's a feature of many a top innings by an opener, he left well. The Hagley Oval traditionally offers bounce. But this green-looking surface wasn't as sinister as its cousin used last week. But Erwee and Elgar still had to get past Tim Southee to offer any semblance of reassurance to those seated in the visiting team dressing room.

The pitch may have lacked in zip off the surface but there was still enough through the air with the new ball for Southee, who produced a probing spell from round the stumps, setting the left-handers up with inswingers before bowling his famed three-quarter seam delivery that moved away from them. Elgar played and missed a couple and even edged one that fell short of the slip cordon. But as is his wont, the South African captain traded aesthetics for effectiveness, something South Africa dearly needed.

At the other end, Erwee was more free-flowing. Having been dismissed playing around his pads in the first Test, he tightened up his technique to play more in the 'V'. The batting pair was also helped somewhat by Matt Henry, who couldn't find that in-between lengths that made him so effective last time around. He went either too short or too full and didn't find enough nip to alarm the batsmen. Erwee and Elgar remained steadfast even if easy runs weren't always forthcoming.

In fact, it wasn't until the 15th over of the innings, the last one before the Drinks interval in the first session, that South Africa's scoring rate crossed two runs per over. But that six-run over off the Matt Henry, where both batsmen picked up a three each, marked a tectonic shift to the session's proceedings. For runs came at a healthy clip thereafter and Erwee and Elgar went to Lunch unseparated after adding 80 on the board, the former scoring 53 off those.

Eighty-nine came in the middle session, 25 in the first four overs after resumption. Erwee endured only a couple of stutters along the way as he copped a blow to the box and then nicked a Henry ball that fell short of first slip. But there were no other hiccups along the way till he reached 90 when the scoring understandably slowed down in anticipation of a major milestone. Along the way, the partnership ticked off a milestone of its own when Elgar and Erwee became the first South African opening pair to put on 100 in an overseas Test after 34 games and 10 years.

Elgar eventually fell to Southee for 41 after a 111-run partnership, playing around a ball in the channel that seamed just enough to hit top of off. Undeterred Erwee kicked on to complete his century with a pulled four of Neil Wagner. His scoring rate dwindled in the final session but the visitors had Aiden Markram work himself into a semblance of form with a 42 punctuated by pleasing cover drives.

New Zealand's fast bowlers, on a relatively benign pitch, were chasing the game for most of the day but their ability to bowl dry was a great mitigating factor. After a series of quiet overs, both Markram and Erwee went looking for expansive drives and edged catches behind the wicket. The hosts then had opportunities to take at least two more wickets but a strange profligacy in the field earned reprieves for both Temba Bavuma and Rassie van der Dussen, with Henry the unsuccessful bowler on both occasions. Those two missed chances meant taht New Zealand ended the day with the least amount of wickets after bowling on an uninterrupted first day of a Test since 2013.

Brief scores: South Africa 238/3 (Sarel Erwee 108, Aiden Markram 42; Tim Southee 1-41) vs New Zealand

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