Lunch Australia 0 for 1 (Warner 1*) and 416 (Labuschagne 143, Head 56, Wagner 4-92, Southee 4-93) lead New Zealand 166 (Taylor 80, Starc 5-52) by 251 runs
Mitchell Starc just kept doing what he always does in Australia, whether the ball is red or pink or white. He runs in and goes whang. In the course of that, he picked up his 13th five-wicket haul – seventh at home – to wrap up New Zealand for 166 and secure a lead of 250.
That gave Australia the chance to enforce the follow-on but it was hardly ever a realistic option with Josh Hazlewood out of the game with a hamstring strain. The ease with which Tim Paine and his men managed that – an injury to one of their best weapons to a pink ball – was remarkable. Of course, it must have helped that they had 416 runs in the bank and the batsmen they were targeting already had been in the field for nearly 150 overs.
Starc’s fifth wicket was a bit of an event though. He looked to have bounced Colin de Grandhomme out – umpire Aleem Dar certainly thought so – but when the batsman took the option of DRS, replays seemed to indicate the ball might have just gone off the helmet on its way to Steven Smith at second slip. But since the visuals weren’t conclusive enough the third umpire Marais Erasmus had to stick with the on-field call.
It tells a great deal of the faith Australia have in their fast bowlers that they went out to the field on Saturday and immediately settled into a short-ball plan. Starc and Pat Cummins were the only ones left standing. The heat was in the 40C range again. New Zealand were already five down, but their lower-order rarely ups and folds like a deck chair. There was a chance it could have gone all wrong, that the two big quicks would be bowled into the ground and Ross Taylor, who was well past fifty, could have marshalled the resources he had left to some semblance of safety.
But what really happened was, after swaying out of the way of a ball that was coming for his nose, BJ Watling was slow to get in line with the follow-up delivery and was bowled. A man who had come into this game with scores of 77, 105*, 205 and 55 had been one-twoed by Cummins’ ruthless precision. He has 52 wickets this year, 14 more than his nearest rival.
Taylor took on the short ball with varied degrees of success – some zipped past him while others zipped to the boundary – but his biggest test came at the hands of Nathan Lyon. The offspinner’s first over included a ball that skipped through the gap between bat and pad and nearly bowled Taylor. Ever since then, he began to look unsure of his scoring options because he was unsure how much the ball will spin. Eventually, a beautifully tossed up offbreak took Taylor’s outside edge as he played inside the line and he was caught for an otherwise flawless 80. Lockie Ferguson, who has already been ruled out of bowling in this Test match, came out at No. 11 to try and extend New Zealand’s innings but even that brave, last-ditch effort from New Zealand didn’t quite go the way they would have wanted it to.