Wellington: Morne Morkel took 6 for 23 and Kane Williamson made an unbeaten 102 in an almost one-on-one contest that ended in stalemate as South Africa and New Zealand drew the third Test on Tuesday.
Promoted from his usual role as third seamer to take the new ball, Morkel took all six New Zealand wickets to fall on the final day after South Africa's declaration at 189 for 3 set the home side 389 to win the match and take the series 1-0.
Williamson marshaled critical pockets of resistance — partnerships of 51 with Dean Brownlie (15), 80 with Kruger van Wyk (39) and an unbroken 37 with Doug Bracewell (20 not out) — to lead New Zealand to 200 for 6 as it survived 81 overs to save the match.
South Africa took a 1-0 lead in the three-match series into the match at the Basin Reserve after winning the second Test at Hamilton by nine wickets. The first Test at Dunedin was drawn.
Morkel bowled South Africa into a position on Tuesday from which they should have completed a 2-0 series win. He took his first five wickets for 11 runs to leave New Zealand 83 for 5 with most of its specialist batsmen back in the pavilion.
New Zealand's position was even more tenuous as its captain and best batsman Ross Taylor was unable to take part in the second innings because of a broken arm. But he was in the dressing room at the end of play to join in the celebration of a meritorious draw with the world's best team.
Morkel was impeded by a slight back strain through the last half of New Zealand's innings and was bowled sparingly by South Africa captain Graeme Smith. In his absence, none of the other South African bowlers — so penetrative in the series — could dislodge the stubborn Williamson who batted for six hours for his first century since his Test debut.
Morkel had the penultimate over of the innings at the New Zealand batsman but failed to make the final breakthrough that might have pitched it to defeat. Vernon Philander bowled the last over with the second new ball but also could not end New Zealand's resistance.
Philander took 21 wickets in the series at an average of 14 but went wicketless in New Zealand's innings on Tuesday for the first time in the three Tests. He still finishes the series with 51 career wickets at an average of 13.8, having reached the 50-wicket milestone faster than any player in 16 years.
Morkel has been partly overshadowed in the series by Philander and Dale Steyn — who bowled 15 overs on Tuesday at a cost of only 14 runs — but he had his chance to shine on the last day of the series.
Handed the new ball by Smith, he responded magnificently, dismissing Daniel Flynn and Brendon McCullum, both without scoring, to leave New Zealand two down for one run in the fifth over.
He then removed Martin Guptill for 18 and when he bowled Brownlie and Daniel Vettori (0) with successive deliveries he seemed to have set up South Africa's win. But Williamson resisted and his partnerships with van Wyk, which ate up 25 overs, and with Bracewell, which occupied the last 20 overs of the match, saved New Zealand.
"It was hard work today and obviously it was a big day for me and for the team," Morkel said. "I'm pleased with the effort the boys put in for this last 80 overs because we knew it was going to be hard.
"Last night I was bowling to (coach Gary Kirsten's) two sons in the corridor of the hotel just so I could get one or two wickets. But I knew my game or my time was just around the corner and it was just a matter of hanging in there."
For New Zealand to survive 81 overs in Taylor's absence, and under the weight of South Africa's hefty declaration was cheering, especially for a team beaten so heavily in Hamilton.
"It's a great fighting effort," stand-in captain Brendon McCullum said. "It would have been nice if we had a total we could chase down for the win and to level the series, but it wasn't to be.
"Kane Williamson showed at a young age how great he is and hopefully he'll inspire a lot of us to play a lot better than we have."
South Africa made Smith's confident declaration possible on Tuesday when they rushed from their overnight score of 75 without loss to 189 for 3 in just over an hour. AB de Villiers smashed 68 from only 50 balls to allow Smith to declare with a 388-run advantage and with plenty of time to dismiss New Zealand.
South Africa had made 474 for 9 before declaring their first innings — helped by Alviro Petersen's 156 — and bowled out New Zealand for 275 thanks to Philander's 6 for 81. South Africa led by 199 runs and built solidly on that but Williamson, with the first century by a New Zealand batsman in the series, saved the day.