Harere: South Africa overcame a sluggish spell to attain a position of strength on day two of their one-off Test against Zimbabwe on Sunday as they reached stumps on 201 for four.
Faf du Plessis` unbeaten 69 left the Proteas just 55 runs behind Zimbabwe`s first innings total of 256 all out, but not before South Africa had been drawn into a scrap by some canny Zimbabwean tactics.
On a slow Harare Sports Club pitch, captain Brendan Taylor set a defensive field and instructed Zimbabwe`s medium-pacers to bowl wide outside off stump, putting the onus on number one ranked South Africa to show clear intent.
The Proteas mostly responded with a dead bat as Zimbabwe kept their discipline, but also lost the key wickets of Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers when they tried to force the pace.
"The thing is they`re very good bowlers in their conditions and for the wicket that`s been prepared," Dean Elgar said.
"They`re very patient, they stick to their game plan very well and they seem to try and get you to play outside of your game plan."
Elgar had given South Africa`s innings a solid start as he put on 57 for the first wicket with Alviro Petersen, who was caught behind off John Nyumbu for 32, and went on to score 61 before being caught behind.
His dismissal initiated the defensive tactics from Taylor, which appeared to hypnotise the South Africans as they slid to 157 for four.
Amla scored four from 27 deliveries before driving a Tendai Chatara delivery straight to cover, and De Villiers scored seven from 34 before whipping Nyumbu to midwicket.
Meanwhile Du Plessis took 31 balls after the tea break to score the two runs he required for his half-century, and added just 21 runs from 81 balls in the final session.
"I think that`s pretty much the nature of this Test. It`s going to be quite slow and it`s going to be tough for run-scoring opportunities," said Elgar.
It required the naturally attacking mindset of Quinton de Kock to break the spell, with the left-hander scoring relatively freely on his way to 27 not out.
The day had begun with Dale Steyn completing his 24th five-wicket haul in Tests when he claimed the final wicket of the Zimbabwean innings.
Steyn had Nyumbu caught behind in the fourth over of the day as Zimbabwe added just eight runs to their overnight total of 248 for nine, and finished with figures of 5 for 46.
The fast bowler now boasts a five-wicket haul against every Test-playing nation.