For the third time in as many innings in their three-match series against Australia, New Zealand’s batting unit folded for a sub-200 total, as Australia ascended into a commanding position on the third day of their Boxing Day encounter at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Having closed out the second day’s play on 44/2 in reply to Australia’s first-innings 467, New Zealand crumbled in the face of another superb display of fast bowling from Pat Cummins, the world’s top-ranked Test bowler.
Cummins’ five-for underpinned the home team’s dominance, as New Zealand were sent packing for 148, conceding a first-innings deficit of 319 runs. Tim Paine, however, refrained from reinserting the visitors. By stumps, Australia had moved to 137/4, with a 456-run lead in the kitty, and a victory firmly in sight.
With his 5/28 on Saturday, 28 December, Cummins extended the gulf between him and second-placed Stuart Broad to 16 wickets, taking his tally for the calendar year to 59. Having already drawn the outside edge from Tom Blundell with a 146-kph fuller ball on the second day, the 26-year-old began the third with wickets off the first two balls of his second over.
Ross Taylor was the first to fall, pressing forward and sending a thick edge flying towards third slip, where Marnus Labuschagne parried the ball, which eventually settled into the hands of Joe Burns at first slip. Next ball, Cummins went around the wicket to the left-handed Henry Nicholls and pinned him in front of leg stump to open the floodgates. When BJ Watling fell for the bait from James Pattinson to poke a wide short of a length ball outside off and edge to Burns, New Zealand had lost half their side while still trailing by over 400 runs.
It could have all ended much quicker had Steve Smith not reprieved Tom Latham, after diving from across second slip, in front of Burns at first, and shelling an outside edge. Latham had, at that point, laboured to 9 off 62 balls. He continued to be the only New Zealand batsman to show a measure of resistance, soaking up 144 balls for a dogged 50, while none of the rest touched 20.
Cummins’ five-for was complemented brilliantly by James Pattinson, who had accounted for the all-important wicket of Kane Williamson on the second evening, before adding two more scalps on the third to finish with 3/34, while Mitchell Starc took the other two, winding up with 2/30.
Australia’s openers dealt with a testing new-ball spell from Trent Boult and Tim Southee. Joe Burns, especially, was tentative at the start, but once the nerves eased down, he and David Warner buckled down for a 62-run opening stand.
The ever-consistent Labuschagne took them to the 100-run mark in the company of Burns, before New Zealand hit back with three wickets for 10 runs. However, coming as it did after their abject batting display earlier in the day, it was hardly a balm for the deep cuts inflicted upon them.
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