Despite staging a brief show of fighting back with some quick wickets in the last session of the third day, New Zealand could not prevent Australia from taking command of the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne. The Aussies extended their lead to a healthy 456 at Stump’s when they ended the day on 137 for 4.
The Australia bowlers wreaked havoc as they bundled out the entire New Zealand batting order for just 148. Despite the massive 319 runs lead that the hosts had, Neil Wagner showed a lot of promise and resolve in his bowling, becoming the second-fastest New Zealand bowler to pick 200 Test wickets.
Wagner fooled David Warner with a delivery that the Aussie couldn’t help but a chip and Tom Blundell was on hand, at cover to pluck the ball from the air. Warner was the highest scorer for Australia in the second session having scored 38 runs. Joe Burns, who got dismissed for a duck having faced just a single Trent Boult delivery in the first session spent considerable time on the pitch in the second, scoring 35 runs after facing a hundred deliveries before late-cutting a Santner ball straight to BJ Watling’s gloves behind the stumps. Tom Latham and Mitchell Santnerwere sharp in the field to get rid of MarunsLabuschagne by running him out and wickets started to fall in a heap.
Steve Smith who’s had a brilliant comeback to Test cricket this year, could do little to prevent this collapse. His arrival to the crease made Kane Williamson bring back Neil Wagner, who tested his resolve with short balls instantly. This move ended up paying dividends for New Zealand as Steve failed to time a pull shot and ended up giving a catch for Tim Southee to comfortably grasp. This was the fourth time Wagner managed to scalp Steve Smith. Smith’s wicket was also a monumental milestone for Neil Wagner’s Test career – this was his 200th victim, the second fastest to accomplish this feat for New Zealand. Matthew Wade and Travis Head could only add another 27 runs for the fifth wicket as Australia ended another spectacular day.
Things would go from bad to worse for New Zealand as Trent Boult’s injury woes continued. He received a blow to his right hand while batting at the death which ended in a fracture and the fast bowler has to be sent home for treatment and rehabilitation after the Test. Trent could only bowl nine overs in the second innings but it’s highly doubtful if he’ll walk on to the pitch if required in the second innings of the Test.
New Zealand’s earlier batting collapse was triggered by the fantastic Pat Cummins who took a five-wicket haul and made sure New Zealand would be bowled out for cheap. Australia did not enforce the follow-on despite commanding a 300 run lead. Cummins finished with figures of 5-28, his fifth five-wicket haul, his first fifer against New Zealand.
The hosts made the best use of the conditions to their advantage. The pacers were rewarded for their consistency, pace and the extra bounce the pitch offered given the overcast weather conditions and as a result, the New Zealand batting unit started to collapse like a deck of cards caught in a hurricane. This collapse was expedited after lunch as Pat Cummins broke through Tom Latham’s resistance and resolve, thus getting rid of the only batsman that managed to keep Australian bowlers at bay. Latham scored a half-century and staged a solid fightback as batsmen came and batsmen left around him. Pat Cummins’ adamance on sticking with the line outside off paid dividends as Tom Latham fell for the bait that he had set, as the extra bounce undid him by edging off his bat to Tim Paine behind the stumps.
Another bowler who made the most of that corridor of uncertainty outside off was James Pattinson who was persistent and relentless in his approach to trouble batsmen. Cummins ended Southee’s lower order guard for the fifth wicket but Neil Wagner who starred with the ball was in no hurry to give up and smashed a couple of sixes in what was an entertaining 18-ball 20 innings, slightly different from the template on the Day. Mitchell Starc took care of Boult as the final wicket folded.
It did not take long for Australia to strike with the new ball in the morning as they were rewarded in only the third over, thanks to excellent spells from Pat Cummins and James Pattinson, who troubled batsmen with pace and bounce, bowling a tad fuller in length. Cummins especially bowled dangerous lines and at relentless lengths to get the big wicket of Ross Taylor that opened the floodgates. The veteran got a leading edge that traveled straight to Labuschagne at third slip. Cummins got two victims in two deliveries as he sent Henry Nicholls packing back to the pavilion with a golden duck after trapping him with a leg before wicket. He missed his hattrick but was terrific given his opening spell read 2 for 9 in five overs.
Pattinson couldn’t get his hands on Latham’s wicket as Smith dropped his catch but managed to dismiss BJ Watling who could only get the edge of the bat on a delivery that was always rising. Tom Latham and Colin de Grandhomme added 39 runs on the board in the middle to keep the Australian bowlers at bay for a little while as Australia let some slack by handing the ball to Wade who conceded 13 runs with two boundaries. However, the merry for New Zealand did not last long as Mitchell Starc returned soon and his extended pace and lengths caused many problems to the batsmen in his extended second spell.
He ended de Grandhomme’s time in the middle with a peach of a delivery forcing an edge that flew to David Warner at gully. He would’ve had another one in the very next ball as a shorter ball rose onto Santner and despite the on-field umpire’s soft signal was turning down the appeal for a caught behind, replays and slow-mos showed something on Snicko and hotspot close to the glove. It could as well have been the wrist band which is technically considered a part of the glove but the third umpire decided to give the benefit of the doubt to the batsman.
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