Rejuvenated Patel finds his second wind
If the only reason Jeetan Patel is part of New Zealand's XI, or at all, is to get Quinton de Kock out, he won't mind at all. As long as it means he can don the Black Cap again.
"Maybe I get picked to get Quinton out," Patel, who has now dismissed de Kock four times out of four in this series, joked.
The offspinner accounted for de Kock in the fourth and fifth ODI and in both innings of the Dunedin Test, but is not calling him a bunny just yet. "I probably got a bit lucky in the two ODIs. It was a good nut in Hamilton and then he hit one straight up at Eden Park. He was trying to get on with it and that happens," Patel said. "Then the two wickets here were against spinning deliveries.
"He got a tough one in the first innings - you would say that's a pretty decent ball he faced there. I'm not going to say there is a voodoo or anything going on there. It's pleasing to know you've got some confidence when you are bowling to someone."
Far more pleasing for Patel is the biggest picture: at 36 he is a Test cricketer again. It didn't look possible three years ago. After being dropped from the New Zealand team following their tour to South Africa in early 2013, Patel turned down a chance to travel to West Indies and embarked on a county stint instead. Two successful seasons with Warwickshire later, he was their leading wicket-taker in 2015 and the overall top bowler in the Championship last season. That earned him a recall to the national team for the tour of India in September last year.
Having missed the first four Tests of the home summer, he was then included for this match as conditions called for additional spin resources. "I didn't plan to play for New Zealand again, to be honest. But when the stars align, it is beautiful," he said. "You get an opportunity to make up for lost time, for an opportunity I may have missed."
And he has made the most of that chance. Patel has seized the opportunity to operate as the senior spinner in the XI. He has bowled almost twice as many overs as Mitchell Santner so far - 69 compared to 37 - which included a marathon spell of 28 overs on the fourth day. "It's a nice responsibility. I have a real desire to do something for this team, especially being called back," he said. "It's nice to be given an opportunity, especially at this level. In terms of Kane turning to me, I think that's more the fact that they had left-handers out at the wicket most of the time so I was probably just as dangerous as any other bowler."
Apart from de Kock, Patel also proved pesky against JP Duminy, who he should have dismissed in the morning session. New Zealand did not review an lbw appeal which replays showed would have gone on to his offstump. Two overs later, they reviewed another decision, which Duminy had inside-edged onto his pad.
"I was pretty frustrated. I came off and there were some expletives probably shouted. But that's cricket," Patel said. "Some days I hope to take a lot of wickets for cheap runs but today was one of those days where I had to put the yards in."
Patel's time in the United Kingdom has him the value of having a strong work ethic, the results of which are showing now. "Playing 11 months of the year is taxing but it's meant that my cricket in terms of my bowling a lot better. My smarts a lot better. I also understand how to enjoy my days off, because it used to be just training," he said.
For now, he does not want too many more days off. Patel is hopeful of playing a Test at his home ground in Wellington. "I'd love to play a Test match at the Basin. It's the greatest ground in New Zealand, if not the world," Patel said. "I have played a lot there so I tend to know what's going on there but you never know everything. We have to wait and decide what it looks like, what will be our better weapons and how we can attack then. It will be great to play in front of my home ground but you don't always get what you want."
Most of all, he wants to do his bit to contribute to New Zealand's rise which, even though it has not reflected on the rankings where they remain No.5, is evident in the type of cricket they are playing. They put South Africa under pressure in this match in both innings, which Patel believes is a sign of progress.
"It's huge, to be able to stand up against the No.3 team in the world and to beat them in the first innings is a little win by itself," he said. "They are such a great bunch of guys. They are certainly going somewhere with their cricket and I want to help them get there. I know I am not going to be in this team forever so I am enjoying every moment I've got."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent