New Zealand's abject capitulation at the Basin Reserve yesterday left Kane Williamson a bitterly disappointed and bemused captain.

Not for six years has a New Zealand side folded at home as meekly as they did yesterday on a day when batting should have been at its best.

And yet at lunch on the second day, South Africa were 94 for six, still trailing by 174, and New Zealand were bossing the contest.

Instead, New Zealand were whisked away in their second innings for 171 as freefall set in and the players have an unexpected two days off.

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The problems came initially from top class seam bowling, which might have been expected, but then surprisingly by tidy left arm spin from Keshav Maharaj, whose six for 40 off 20.2 overs are the second best figures in a test at the Basin by a spinner - behind only Dan Vettori's seven for 130 against Sri Lanka in 2006.

South Africa were left needing just 81 to win and leave New Zealand a mountain to climb in the third test at Hamilton starting on Saturday. It all seemed to happen in a hurry yesterday after they started their second innings 91 runs behind.

New Zealand lost 10 for 36 in their second innings against Pakistan in Hamilton to tumble to a 10-wicket defeat in 2011. Yesterday there were two notable slips after lunch - three for 36 in 45 balls, followed by five for 16 in 36 deliveries, and there are no real excuses.

Williamson was undone by the ball of the day from tall Morne Morkel, but man of the match Maharaj was steady, used the footmarks to his advantage, but a look back over his six wickets reveals he didn't have to really dig out a single dismissal. All six contributed to their downfall.

Seamers usually prevail at the Basin, and that's another reason Williamson was downcast last night.

"That was definitely disappointing," Williamson said. "Credit to their spinners [who took 12 wickets in the match], they did bowl well, but on a surface I thought was more suited to the seam bowlers, it's something we need to address.

"We spent a bit of time in India when it went square and we showed better application than we have in this match. We need to play a hell of a lot better."

Opener Jeet Raval, who gave three lives at 53, 67 and 76 on his way to 80, worked his backside off but even he was troubled by Maharaj and eventually stumped.

The less said about some of the other dismissals, the better. Suffice to say they were witless, with no appreciation of the game situation and no willingness to dig in for the fight. Hard thinking on selections for Hamilton lie ahead.

New Zealand's sole spinner, Jeetan Patel, wasn't used in the second innings, took one for 57 in the first, while Maharaj and the amiable offspin of JP Duminy shared 12 for 138 off 50.3 overs.

Williamson clearly could not get his head around how South Africa had enjoyed such success with their spinners.

"It wasn't offering a huge amount of spin. That is something as a batting unit we're disappointed in," he said.

Faf du Plessis was chuffed with the resolve of his players, who pressed hard when they sensed an opening, and shoved the New Zealand door open.

"What we asked for [yesterday] morning was real hard cricketers," captain du Plessis said.

"Mentally, we needed to be very strong, just real hard test cricket and that's what they produced."

New Zealand have never beaten South Africa in a test series, and they're not going to now.

But they do have a rubber to share, if they are good enough and can regroup.