Bowlers scrap but NZ look headed for defeat

Australia's David Warner is dismissed by New Zealand's Tim Southee. Photo: Getty Images
Australia's David Warner is dismissed by New Zealand's Tim Southee. Photo: Getty Images
The Black Caps are set to have to wait until at least after Christmas in their quest to claim a fourth test victory in Australia.

Australia's bowling attack routed the Black Caps for their lowest test total in over a year on day three of the first test in Perth — rolling the visitors for 166 in the day-night encounter.

Only three players reached double figures for the Black Caps, as they were subjected to a masterclass in fast bowling from Mitchell Starc, who finished with 5-52, and Pat Cummins, who took 1-46 but deserved much more.

The Black Caps bowlers produced an excellent effort in response, reducing Australia to 167-6 by stumps, but with Australia holding a lead of 417, it's all a bit too late, with New Zealand having been almost certainly batted out of the game, and left with only the slim hope of being able to salvage a result in the final two days.

Some of the Black Caps' batting woes were explainable. Plenty of quality sides would struggle when sent out to bat under lights in the final session of day two, against some of the world's best fast bowlers, so losing five wickets before stumps couldn't be classed as a shock.

However, returning the next day at 106-5, against an attack that had lost Josh Hazlewood for the rest of the test with a hamstring strain, there was an opportunity for the Black Caps to do what Australia had done to them, and make an undermanned bowling attack toil away for long periods in sapping 40 degree heat.

Instead, they were simply outclassed.

BJ Watling, who had faced at least 170 balls in his last four test innings, lasted only 29 before chopping on to Cummins. Ross Taylor, resuming on 66 after a fine effort on day two, added only 14 further runs before Nathan Lyon entranced him into his off-spinning spell and lured an edge to slip.

Mitchell Santner was bowled through the gate, Tim Southee went down swinging, and Colin de Grandhomme — well, he probably wasn't actually out, but umpire Aleem Dar disagreed, and third umpire Marais Erasmus didn't overturn his decision, despite replays suggesting the ball had not struck glove nor bat before it clanged off his helmet into the slips cordon.

Still, the Black Caps wouldn't have been given much sympathy about any claims of bad luck when they were dismissed 250 runs shy of Australia's first-innings total, and their batsmen showed little resolve when facing the pace and bounce of Starc and Cummins.

In fairness, the duo bowled brilliantly, while Lyon was also productive as usual, and even tremendous application might not be enough to keep the now three-headed bowling beast at bay in the second innings.

Southee and Neil Wagner displayed the type of application that the batsmen will require, leading an impressive fightback late in the final session after Australia opted not to enforce the follow-on, and initially looked comfortable in reaching 131-1.

Off the back of three consecutive centuries, Marnus Labuschagne became the first player to 1000 test runs in 2019 as he brought up a half-century, while Joe Burns raised his bat as well as the pair added 87 for the second wicket. However, both quickly departed after their milestones – Labuschagne slapping Wagner straight to Santner at mid-wicket, while Southee got a ball to fly at Burns, spitting off his glove and being well snared by Henry Nicholls in the gully.

The short-ball approach proved incredibly profitable for the Black Caps' remaining two fast bowlers, with every Australian batsman looking uncomfortable under lights when facing the well-aimed bouncer barrage. Steve Smith was struck on the glove several times before pulling a Wagner delivery straight to square leg, while Southee lured Travis Head into a trap, and then cleaned up Tim Paine second ball – the first wicket of the innings which didn't come from a short-pitched delivery.

Five wickets had fallen for 29 runs, but the positive impact from the Black Caps' fightback might come more in the confidence it will provide for the remaining two tests, rather than boosting their mightily miniscule prospects of managing to produce a legendary comeback.

Because after all, if Southee and Wagner can produce such danger on a day three pitch, then the Black Caps batsmen will need to summon an all-time performance to deny Starc and Cummins a repeat dose on days four and five.

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