New Zealand closed out day two in a state similar to their position the previous evening, struggling to compete with an opponent they had dominated in passages of play, but allowed to charge back emphatically in others. That the hosts are not yet doomed is thanks to Mark Gillespie, who at 32 and after three years in the wilderness was a vexing selection for Hamilton, but produced a staggering burst of pace, movement and luck to decimate South Africa's middle order and finish with 5 for 59. But AB de Villiers' 83, a cameo from Morne Morkel, and Vernon Philander's now vicious routine to New Zealand's top order undid all of Gillespie's work, and left the hosts with four second-innings wickets down, still trailing by three, and a daunting climb to prevent their second successive loss inside three days at Seddon Park.
New Zealand had had South Africa reeling at 88 for 6 in reply to their own 185, but could not maintain the intensity, as de Villiers shepherded the lower order with an effortless innings that made the chaos that came before seem outlandish. The ease of his progress betrayed the flatness of the surface that had browned considerably - the tawny pitch appeared unrecognisable from the green tinged surface that had been unveiled on day one. de Villiers made 63 with Mark Boucher for the seventh wicket, before continuing the recovery alongside Philander and Morkel - the latter took charge following de Villers' ill-fortuned demise to add a further 34 with last man Imran Tahir, giving the visitors a 68-run head start in the second dig. The last four wickets had cost New Zealand 165.
The hosts then dug themselves further into the mire, when Rob Nicol, Brendon McCullum and Martin Guptill fell in the first five overs of their second innings. Nicol, perhaps, was unlucky - a bunted short ball dribbled off the bat, down his leg and onto the stumps - but McCullum and Guptill were out to the same stroke, falling away to the off side as they attempted a clip off the pads. McCullum missed entirely and was caught in front, while Guptill couldn't control the shot and found short midwicket.
Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson attempted a recovery, blunting the new-ball movement and negotiating Tahir's first spell on a wearing pitch to add a sedate 57. But they were tested again, when the ball began to reverse late in the day, and Taylor could not dig out a hooping yorker from Dale Steyn that struck him in front.
Although New Zealand had dismissed Graeme Smith and nightwatchman Steyn the previous evening, South Africa's beginning to day two augured a day of toil, with Hashim Amla and Alviro Petersen settling gradually into their innings. Chris Martin and Doug Bracewell found a hint of movement in the air, but little off the pitch, and though their opening partnership was tight, it posed few penetrative threats to the overnight pair.
But just as Amla began to add attractive scoring strokes to solid defence, Gillespie stung South Africa in a four-over salvo and transformed the outlook of the visitors' innings, and for a while, the match.
Amla was removed first, a thick edge from an attempted square drive flying low to backward point. Jacques Kallis then experienced the extremes of fortune in Gillespie's next over. He top edged a short ball past fine leg for six, before glancing one down the leg side, only to turn around to see Kruger van Wyk celebrating his wicket. In the next over, Gillespie's movement off the seam trapped Petersen lbw. Jacques Rudolph completed the quartet with a regulation edge, ending a seven-over period that yielded four big scalps for 25 runs.
de Villiers meanwhile, had few issues timing the ball and working the field as New Zealand's supporting cast failed to match Gillespie's penetration. South Africa's recovery was slow at times, but assured, under de Villiers and Boucher, who helped the side through to lunch.
Boucher's dismissal completed Gillespie's five-wicket haul, but de Villiers was unfussed, as he called on one-day nous (shuffles across the crease to work the ball to the leg side, downward dabs to third man ...) to keep the larger share of the strike, and minimise his fast-bowling team-mates' exposure to tight New Zealand bowling. Ten boundaries, mostly through the off side, punctuated a steady stream of singles and twos, as de Villiers oversaw the eclipsing of the hosts' total, and edged his side ahead.
Morkel had hit three confident boundaries before de Villiers departed lucklessly - when a forward defence to Vettori spun back onto his stumps - and ratcheted up the tempo in the company of Imran Tahir, dispatching Gillespie for three successive fours upon the bowler's return to the crease. Tahir wasted little time in matching Morkel's ambition, though most of his 16 came from edges over or past the slips. The pair added an adventurous, and often fortuitous, 34 for the final wicket, before Williamson ended the innings with his third ball of the match.
At stumps Williamson was unbeaten on 41 - his first substantial batting contribution of the series - alongside Vettori, unbeaten on nought.