NZ staring down the barrel

There were seven hours of play today and the test now lies firmly with the hosts. The Gabba continues to remain their fort.

New Zealand have only themselves to blame. They did manage to keep the pressure for two and a half hours before lunch. Two wickets fell and only a hundred runs were scored. Australia still trailed by 40 runs with Haddin and Clarke batting. Both are chancy batsmen and both kept on playing that way. It is in situations like these that captains should never lose the initiative, keep attacking, and make statements to the opposition. I know Taylor had only around two and a half bowlers at his disposal but the body language and the energy levels of the fielding unit were discouraging after lunch. As soon as New Zealand’s total was surpassed, they seemed as though they had conceded a 300 run lead.

Micheal Clarke’s energy levels never dropped. He already had a life yesterday and lady luck stayed with him today as Reece Young and Jesse Ryder put down chances that weren’t straightforward but ones that you would back yourself to take at this level. His shot making was magnificent and runs came at a brisk pace. He is susceptible to a line just outside off stump and he made a conscious effort to leave balls there.

Earlier, Ricky Ponting was dismissed leg before by a typical in coming Chris Martin delivery. Ponting played across and completely missed the line of the ball. As pointed out by, I think, Micheal Slater, his issues are more mind-related. And Clarke’s performances are generally energy-related. It was a good opportunity for Micheal Hussey to score big and bat New Zealand out of the game. He succumbed to a bat-pad off Vettori, pushing forward in defense. Southee and Martin were the main bowlers in the first session with Vettori keeping things tight.

Post lunch, New Zealand needed a good long spell from their fourth bowler and Doug Bracewell actually delivered. Clearly, there were instructions from his captain as to what areas he needed to bowl and he did respond well. Clarke was beaten regularly. An inside edge swung very late, just before Young’s gloves and the chance went a begging. A little wide one was slashed and the ball travelled quickly to Ryder, who spilled the chance at third slip. Haddin, as ever, wasn’t timing the ball early in his innings. He should have been attacked more. The Kiwis should have sent across a message that they were just a wicket away from finishing the innings and starting to build their own lead. Instead, they almost went through the motions.

I couldn’t believe Doug Bracewell was given the second new ball ahead of Southee, at a time Southee could have finished the Aussie lower order. Yes, Bracewell did bowl well before that but Southee was fresh after lunch!

Clarke holed out to deep square leg after tea and Siddle was quickly undone by a brilliant Vettori over. The lead was only fifty by then. Enough pressure wasn’t exerted on Pattinson and Starc and both of them gave Haddin a lot of support for his assault. From Australia’s perspective, Pattinson and Starc can certainly spend some time batting and aren’t complete jokers. But NZ couldn’t even ensure the tailenders’ retaining most of the strike.

This is turning out to be yet another game where NZ have been close but haven’t clinched the game at the key moments. They faced half an hour of chin music from Pattinson and Siddle and in the last half an hour of the day, and lost McCullum. Pattinson looked outstanding with the new ball and looked like picking a wicket every other delivery. Martin Guptill was found fishing from start to finish. He’s still alive though and should realize that the only way New Zealand can save the game is by playing positive cricket. Excessive defense won’t help the cause tomorrow and this line up isn’t good at it either.

Keeper Reece Young was struck hard on the nose by a Vettori delivery that bounced extravagantly. He started bleeding instantaneously. He went away and had ten stitches on the outer lip along with two inside. Brendon McCullum was very much available and it would have been so easy to cool off and return for the second innings. But the man was back on the field, as quickly as he could. Salute him for the spirit he showed today.

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