Dean Elgar wasn't quite Captain Lawrence Oates of the ill-fated British 1911-12 South Pole expedition, but he did go outside, and he was some time in Dunedin temperatures hovering around 12 degrees on the fourth day of the first test.

Unlike Oates' dire end, the South African opener returned alive to his team's tent after taking them to a position of parity against New Zealand.

The Proteas were 224 for six at stumps, a lead of 191 which may be in vain with rain forecast to disrupt the final day.

Elgar made 89 to go with his 140 from the first innings.

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The 548 balls he faced across the test are the most by any of his countrymen in New Zealand, surpassing Daryll Cullinan's 490 at Auckland in February 1999.

It was an autumn atmosphere where full cable-knit sweaters were de rigueur, hands were embedded in pockets and one could be forgiven for fantasising about piping hot pumpkin soup.

The Black Caps missed a swag of opportunities to steal an advantage in the first session. The Proteas survived two failed reviews, one non-review that would have earned a wicket, and two dropped catches.

They recovered to earn three for 67 in the final session. The guile of Jeetan Patel was the highlight with two for 72 from 36 overs, including his fourth consecutive dismissal of Quinton de Kock in an international innings. At one point he bowled 28 straight overs from the northern end.

Left-armers Trent Boult (one for 34) and Neil Wagner (two for 57) worked in metronomic fashion to test the visitors early amid a gloom that felt like an extended solar eclipse.

Boult suffered a sore upper left thigh for his efforts which prevented him bowling with the second new ball. His fitness will be monitored overnight.

Wagner coaxed Amla (24) into a trap laid at short mid-wicket. A short-of-a-length ball was fended into substitute fielder Tim Southee's hands. Amla looked vulnerable after getting hit on the fingers by Boult's first ball of the day.

His exit was not capitalised on. Elgar and Jean-Paul Duminy (39) grafted a 74-run third-wicket stand.

Elgar overturned a decision for caught behind off Patel on the last ball before tea.

Faf du Plessis continued the battle of attrition created by his barnacle opener to post an unbeaten 56. Vern Philander was not out one.

New Zealand suffered for their judgment calls on five occasions.

1. A failed review from Boult in the 25th over when a ball hit Duminy's pad, rather than the bat on the way through to B-J Watling's gloves. Duminy was on two.

2. Tom Latham dropped a first slip catch off Boult in the 29th over when Duminy was six.
3. No review was taken when Patel hit Duminy (20) on the back leg in the 38th over which, albeit in hindsight, the ball tracker showed hitting the stumps.

4. An lbw review was taken against Duminy (20) in the 40th over when an inside edge hit his pad.

5. Elgar (35) edged Jimmy Neesham in the 41st over, but the ball clipped Watling's outstretched glove.

Neesham had two first slip catches elude his grasp from Elgar off Patel and Mitchell Santner. One fell short; the other squirted to his left.

Given the onus placed on bringing two spinners into the match, Patel was New Zealand's sole presence before lunch, bowling three overs.

Santner only bowled his first over (his sixth of the innings) at 3.37pm but dismissed Temba Bavuma as a ball spun back onto his stumps, tipping off the bails.

The match looks destined for a draw unless New Zealand can rifle through the visitors in a weather break tomorrow and plunder the runs.