Some late drama finally injected some life into a cricket test that threatened to screech to a halt on day four at Perth’s WACA Ground.
A pitch that broke nearly every bowler’s heart finally offered a few morsels and New Zealand’s bowlers accepted, as the Second Test enters the final day probably still needing the captains’ intervention to set up a tense finish.
Australia’s Steve Smith was unbeaten on 131, his 12th test century, as his team moved to 258-2 at stumps, a lead of 193. Western Australian Adam Voges also raised his second ton just before the close, at a ground where he scores state runs for fun.
Smith looked comfortable until Matt Henry got one to leap from a crack in the pitch, then should have removed him on 96 when gloveman BJ Watling dived but dropped a one-handed attempt down the leg side. Then Trent Boult clanged Smith on the helmet, which left the skipper flexing his neck and requiring a concussion test.
Henry bent his back again and gave Smith a nasty bruise on the elbow which required more attention, but he soldiered on.
Smith faces a big decision today, whether to declare and give the Black Caps a sniff of a chance of chasing in the vicinity of 300-plus in 60 overs.
There were still too few encouraging signs for the bowlers. After four days the expectation was that chasms would open up but it remained a dream batting surface that lacked pace.
At 1-0 up, Smith doesn’t owe the Black Caps anything. The tourists also don’t want to go to Adelaide 2-0 down and gone in the series. But if they get a sniff of a chance, Brendon McCullum’s mantra is to go for it so there may be one more twist to come in this match.
Just a few hours after Ross Taylor slog-swept out for 290 – the highest test innings by a visiting batsman in Australia – the crowd of 4243 slow clapped and implored McCullum to get on with it.
He chopped, changed and consulted, trying everything to conjure a wicket with a solitary slip and a variety of other catchers. It was all both sets of bowlers could do not to hoist the white flag, as Mitchell Johnson earlier conceded 1-157 off 28 overs for the worst figures by an Australian bowler at the WACA.
The test certainly needed a shot in the arm. Apart from some wonderful batting from Taylor, David Warner, Kane Williamson and Smith, it’s been awfully hard work.
“Batsmen living in a nanny state,” said The Australian’s headline as it bemoaned the road-like pitch.
The dud Kookaburra balls were changed a staggering seven times after going soft and out of shape. The Prindiville Stand sightscreen broke down for 17 minutes on Sunday. Then the Channel Nine speed gun credited Mitchell Starc with the world’s fastest recorded test delivery (160.4kmh), and later credited Tim Southee with 150.5kmh that he can tell his grandkids about. Batting coach Craig McMillan was bang on to suggest a malfunction.
Still, it was a memorable day for the Black Caps as Taylor’s nine-and-a-half hour epic saw him climb to third in the New Zealand rankings behind McCullum (302) and Martin Crowe (299).
When he was last out, New Zealand had 624 – their highest total against Australia – and held a lead of 65.
There was a small opening and they went for it, but were two wickets short of really seizing control.
Opener Joe Burns averaged 80 from three innings this series and was due a failure. He lasted seven balls before Southee got one to swing and Taylor stayed in the game with a comfortable catch at first slip.
Warner’s series scores were 163, 116 and 253 and he was off and running again. But McCullum’s field placing was precise and Warner, on 24, drove to Tom Latham at extra cover. New Zealand still led by 19 and with No 3 Usman Khawaja shuffled down the order and limping with a series-ending hamstring injury, the Black Caps were in their best position of the series.
The first session was all Taylor, after he resumed on 235 and with batting partners falling around him got within sight of McCullum’s New Zealand record knock.
Southee hit out at No 10 and when he departed to a full toss Taylor was on 277 and New Zealand were 587-9.
Boult was an excellent foil as he and Taylor added 37, with the No 11 scoring 23 of those.
The match slowed to a crawl as Smith set the field back to Taylor and he reined himself in, declining singles and looking intent on keeping the Australians in the field as long as possible. Taylor passed Englishman Reg ‘Tip’ Foster’s 287 in 1903 which stood as the highest test knock by an overseas player in Australia.
Taylor’s weary arms finally failed him when he skied a catch to sub fielder Jono Wells. He faced 374 balls and hit 43 fours in a remarkable test knock under pressure against New Zealand’s toughest foes.
AT A GLANCE
Highest test scores by New Zealand batsmen:
302: Brendon McCullum v India in Wellington, 2014
299: Martin Crowe v Sri Lanka in Wellington, 1991
290: Ross Taylor v Australia in Perth, 2015
274no: Stephen Fleming v Sri Lanka in Colombo, 2003
267no: Bryan Young v Sri Lanka in Dunedin, 1997
262: Stephen Fleming v South Africa in Cape Town, 2006
259: Glenn Turner v West Indies in Georgetown, 1972
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