Nathan Lyon claimed a five-wicket haul and Pat Cummins picked up three crucial wickets to put Australia in a commanding position against a rattled New Zealand side in the middle day of the third and final Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Sunday (January 5).
Resuming Day Three on 63 for no loss, New Zealand could only add 188 runs to their overnight total and were bowled out for 251 in 95.4 overs, giving Australia a 203-run lead. Lyon (5 for 68) took his 17th five-wicket haul, while Cummins took 3 for 44. Glenn Phillips fought a lone battle and managed to score a half-century in his debut innings.
Australia opted not to enforce a follow-on and opener David Warner (23*) and Joe Burns (16*) stretched the overall lead to 243 runs by the end of Day Three.
New Zealand would have surely liked their openers to carry on but batting against spinners on this surface was never going to be easy. Tom Blundell, in particular, didn't look comfortable against Lyon and the off-spinner set him up perfectly in the 34th over. The first one took off from the footmarks outside off, while the next two came straight on. The fourth delivery turned big before Lyon bowled one on the pads and Blundell, who was trying to work it down the leg side, missed the line and the ball came off the inside his left leg and crashed into the stumps.
After Blundell was dismissed for 34, Jeet Raval walked in to bat at No. 3 for the first time in his Test career and batted with positive intent from the word go. Out-of-form Raval, who was dropped for the second Test, played a couple of solid pull shots off James Pattinson's bowling and with Tim Paine removing Lyon from the attack for few overs, it gave the left-hander an opportunity to settle in. Meanwhile, Tom Latham looked rock-solid at the other end and the two added 49 runs for the second wicket but just couldn't carry on.
Lyon was soon brought back into the attack and the 32-year-old trapped Raval right in front of the stumps to break the partnership. Raval, who scored 31, has struggled against spinners in the past as he gets out to them every 52.1 deliveries compared to 83.7 against fast bowlers. Before the dust had settled, Latham played a lose shot in the bowling of Cummins and ended up offering a simple catch to the mid-on fielder, just one short of his 17th Test fifty.
Lyon could have had another wicket but dropped a straightforward caught and bowled chance to give Phillips a life on 2, and cut his right thumb in the process forcing him to require treatment before continuing. Lyon later dropped Phillips again off his own bowling in the second session when he was on 17.
Meanwhile, Ross Taylor looked very good during his 20-ball stay in the middle, smashing four boundaries before getting pinned right in front of his off-stump when he was on 22. Out of Cummins' 141 Test dismissals, this was only his seventh lbw. The Australian bowlers were guilty of bowling slightly short in the first hour but they soon pushed the length further and that paid dividends.
With New Zealand four down, BJ Watling (9) walked into the crease and these are kinds of situations where he excels. The wicketkeeper-batsman, who has been a consistent performer in this format, hasn't been at his best in this series and once again failed to deliver when his team needed him the most. Watling went chasing after a wide delivery from Mitchell Starc and ended up dragging it back on to the stumps. Just like almost every Kiwi batsman, Colin de Grandhomme too got off to a decent start but failed to convert it into something substantial. The all-rounder was run out for 20 and that reduced New Zealand to 195 for 6.
Phillips was lucky on few occasions but the 23-year-old played some solid shots against Lyon. It seemed like he was never going to run out of luck as he slammed one of straight into the hands of the deep mid-wicket fielder but Pattinson had overstepped, giving Phillips another lifeline. The right-hander started playing his natural game once the second new ball was taken, commencing with a superb straight drive followed by a powerful pull shot over deep square leg for a maximum.
Phillips showed a tremendous fight and got to his maiden fifty with another pull shot off Cummins' bowling. The No. 1 paceman soon had his revenge as he delivered a snorter that came back in and uprooted Phillips' off-stump. The debutant slammed six fours and a maximum in his 52-run knock. While all the focus was on Phillips, Todd Astle played his role to perfection. The No. 8 stuck around and didn't try to do anything fancy.
However, Lyon returned to the attack and knocked over William Somerville and Neil Wagner in the same over. The off-spinner completed his five-wicket haul when Paine stumped Matt Henry for 3, leaving Astle unbeaten on 25.
Australia have marched way ahead into this match and the Black Caps will have to come up with something extraordinary to make a comeback in this encounter.