In yet another example of batsmen struggling to bat under lights, Australia lost five wickets for 36 runs in the final hour and a quarter. It was the only passage in the Test yet when Kiwis dominated the Aussies.
Bowling 14 overs non-stop in the last hour, Neil Wagner and Tim Southee unleashed a short ball barrage on the Aussies. Earning his reward, Wagner dismissed Marnus Labuschagne (50) who pulled one straight to square leg. Steve Smith shed his conservative approach from the first innings to start with two crisp boundaries – one through cover and one straight - of a Southee over.
The Kiwis went back to their approach adopted against Smith in the first innings. In his next over, Southee hit him on the gloves. Then Smith caressed a short one, controlling it with immaculate precession, to beat two fielders – one inside the ring and one inside the ropes at fine leg – for four.
While Smith looked prepared for the Kiwi tactics, Southee, creating an awkward angle for Joe Burns (53) and bowled a snorter that he could only glove to gully.
After the lead crossed 400, Wagner ran in to bowl his 51st over of the match. In a brain fade moment, Smith pulled a short one to deep square leg; a fielder tactically placed a yard inside the boundary. Knowing that the fielder under it was Jeet Raval would have given some hope to Smith but Raval did not let his butterfingers take the better of him.
In the next over, Travis Head (5), flummoxed by the course of play, tucked one to short fine leg. Then Wagner bowled the over of the day. Completely forgetting that his side is in a dominant position, Wade, facing the second ball of the over from around the wicket decided to not play a shot of a length ball, taking a blow at the body instead. Wagner then bluffed him with a slower low full toss that he almost played in the hands of short fine leg. A yorker then followed that left Wade turning in his crease in search of the ball. Wagner ended the over with a bouncer and another length ball – this time from over the wicket - that perplexed Wade again and hit him on the arm.
Southee cleaned up Tim Paine from round the wicket to in the next over to scalp his fourth wicket. The Australians somehow survived the last three overs post that.
After the Kiwis were rolled out for 166 an over before lunch, there was a popular opinion that Australia might have them bat again in twilight today.
The intent of the Aussie openers defied this notion. Hoping to add some runs in a hope to resurrect his Test career, Burns got going after 25 balls. David Warner continued his approach, cutting a half volley off Southee behind point to reach 7000 Test runs.
During the New Zealand innings, a bouncer from Mitchell Starc had Colin de Grandhomme playing with his gloves raising with the ball. The ball thudded into his helmet and was caught at slips. The umpire ruled him out. Despite no mark on the hotspot or snickometer, the third umpire did not overrule the on-field decision due to lack of evidence. Starc thus completed his fifer.
In a stark similarity with de Grandhomme’s dismissal, a bumper went past Warner and was taken at slips. The umpire, however, did not give it out. The replays suggested that the ball passed close to the gloves before hitting the shoulder. The decision thus stayed in Warner's favour.
Looking to up the ante, Warner (19) sliced a bumper from Southee straight to mid-on. Continuing to be subpar in the field, New Zealand missed a chance to save themselves from another onslaught from Marnus. Similar to Warner, the centurion from the first innings mistimed a pull off Wagner. Running sideways, de Grandhomme could not hold on to it.
Australia did not lose any more wickets until tea as Burns grew in confidence. Displaying intent against spin he hit a glorious shot by charging down the wicket and hitting one over Santner’s head.
Post tea, the two set batsmen looked to accelerate and added 46 runs in 11 overs. Marnus, reaching 1000 Test runs in 2019 and hitting yet another half-century, hit two glorious shots. A glorious inside out shot over extra cover for a boundary and a cut towards the third man boundary off Southee.
Wagner’s introduction then pulled the rate back. This time using a few slower ones along with the bouncer barrage. The duo of him and Southee then went on to provide the brightest passage of play in the Test.
With the lead of 416 runs, Australia is still on top in the Test. The fact that Kiwi lower-order could only add 57 in the morning session will not give them much hope either. The two Aussie quicks, both a yard quicker than Kiwi pacers are proving to be a handful. With a deteriorating pitch, Nathan Lyon and Marnus Labuschagne are handy alternatives.
The last hour today will give the Blackcaps something to carry in the next Test. Winning the Test with two possible sessions under lights, however, will need something special.