It would be a world record chase and one of test cricket’s most remarkable turnarounds, but the Black Caps give themselves a shot of beating Australia in Brisbane on Monday.
Senior men Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor will resume amid a much improved weather forecast on 142-3, requiring another 362 for what would be their greatest victory. With a minimum of 98 overs to be bowled on day five, it’s a required run rate of 3.7 per over but New Zealand remain huge underdogs to escape this one.
Opener Tom Latham said McCullum, who scored a marathon triple-century to save the 2014 Wellington test against India, would show positive intent against Australia’s fast men and offspinner Nathan Lyon who looms as the biggest threat into the footmarks on an otherwise excellent pitch.
“It’s important that he goes out and plays his natural game. If he bats for an hour or two we could certainly be a long way to winning the match,” Latham said.
“I’d certainly think we’re in with a chance but that first hour in that first session is going to be crucial for us.”
With star batsman Kane Williamson gone for 59 after a controversial lbw to Lyon, New Zealand’s chances of even saving the match suffered a hammer blow. Rain played its part too with only 53 overs bowled in the day.
Neither McCullum nor Taylor have looked convincing, and scored a combined six runs in the first innings. McCullum had a winter break and no first-class knocks since May while Taylor is still seeking form and runs after a post-surgery layoff. But they know how to save test matches – notably McCullum with his Wellington heroics with backing from Jimmy Neesham and BJ Watling – and will require all their guile and application to get the tourists within sight.
It reflected the confidence of this team, with seven unbeaten series behind them and having struggled to stay with Australia throughout this test, that they would even contemplate victory. Lyon agreed the Black Caps were a threat if McCullum and Taylor took a flyer.
“We’ve got to bowl well. If we don’t and they get away, they’ve got two very dangerous batsmen at the crease. There’s definitely a chance but the odds are more in Australia’s favour, that’s for sure. If we bowl well then we win this test match,” Lyon said.
Lyon removed Williamson just before tea in a huge moment. After scoring a majestic 140 in the first innings, New Zealand’s batting whiz was cruising on 59 before a rare false stroke undid him.
The lbw shout looked high, striking him on the waistband as he pulled and just missed. English umpire Richard Illingworth gave the decision but it was well worth a challenge. Ball tracking technology can be infuriating and the players get nervous when it decides their fate.
Replays showed it clipping the top of the bails, meaning umpire’s call and it would have remained not out if Illingworth turned down the original shout. It wasn’t a howler but on height, Williamson could have received the benefit of the doubt.
Australia’s captain Steve Smith made the equation simple for New Zealand when he declared before the start of day four. Score 504 runs, or bat two days, or Australia go to Perth 1-0 up in the three-test series.
History, and the first innings performance of New Zealand’s top-six bar Williamson, suggested this was highly unlikely. New Zealand’s record successful chase is 324-5 against Pakistan in Christchurch in 1994, and their highest fourth innings total 451 against England in 2002. That remains the highest in a losing cause.
Notably, the Black Caps’ longest fourth innings in Australia lasted 82.3 overs in Adelaide in 2004.
The pitch still held few demons and it required patience and sound technique against the pace and bounce of Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson who crippled New Zealand on Friday.
It began promisingly. Latham again looked the part in a 100-minute stay and got a brute from Starc, a yorker that slammed into his front boot.
For Martin Guptill it was potentially his defining innings as a test opener, but instead was a pure, dour battle for survival over three hours and 133 balls. His knock featured zero boundaries and continued an odd sequence of test scores: 70, 0, 0, 70, 23 and 23. Guptill was dropped twice early, then finally edged Lyon.
Williamson’s effortless form continued, rattling up another half-century off 55 balls with a powerful punch through mid-wicket off Johnson. Within sight of tea he looked immovable until the DRS controversy and the hand of Illingworth dealt a major blow to New Zealand’s hopes.
Stumps on day four of the first test in Brisbane:
First innings 556-4 dec
Second innings 264-4 dec
First innings 317
Second innings (target 504)
T Latham lbw b Starc 29
M Guptill c Smith b Lyon 23
K Williamson lbw b Lyon 59
R Taylor not out 20
B McCullum not out 4
Extras (b 3, lb 3, wd 1) 7
Total (for 3 wickets, 53 overs) 142
Fall: 44 (Latham), 98 (Guptill), 136 (Williamson).
Bowling: M Starc 13-4-24-1, M Johnson 13-5-42-0 (1w), J Hazlewood 10-3-24-0, M Marsh 6-3-13-0, N Lyon 11-0-33-2.
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