New Zealand v Australia Tests
Pattinson fires as Australia close in
Australia charging towards victory - and the world No.1 ranking - in the second Test
Andrew Ramsey Hagley Oval, Christchurch
22 February 2016, 08:19 PM AEST
The favour that James Pattinson owed his team was repaid in a sizeable lump sum this afternoon as the three key wickets he claimed carried Australia within sight of the world number one Test ranking.
Pattinson was the stand-out bowler on a day that will be more readily remembered as the last of Brendon McCullum’s career for New Zealand, with the Black Caps trailing by 14 runs heading into day four at Christchurch with six wickets available to them.
If the Black Caps are to somehow find the win that will prevent Australia assuming their cherished ranking, it will be up to their captain-in-waiting Kane Willamson, who finished the day unbeaten on 45.
With only allrounder Corey Anderson, 'keeper BJ Watling and a string of bowlers left to accompany him on that mission.
Having cost Australia the wicket of McCullum on Saturday when his overstep meant the Black Caps skipper was not dismissed for 39 but went on to blast 145, Pattinson bent his sometimes troublesome back on a chilly third afternoon at Hagley Oval.
The 135-run lead that Australia squeezed out today was largely due to Adam Voges' fifth half-century from his past seven Test innings – an achievement that saw him briefly overtake Don Bradman for an unprecedented career average of 100-plus – in concert with nightwatchman Nathan Lyon.
If not for the indefatigable efforts of NZ's South African-born (and semi-permanent resident) Neil Wagner, who claimed a career-best 6-106 by banging the ball into the track and waiting for the opposition to mis-hit one to a fielder, that discrepancy could have pushed 200 or more.
Which the Australians, who lost 5-50 in an hour after lunch with all of those wickets falling to strokes in which batsmen tried to manufacture scoring opportunities from essentially benign deliveries, might well have felt they should have achieved.
Then, on a pitch that has proved so diametrically different to what was anticipated when the pre-match order for a green seamer was placed that just one batsman was dismissed lbw or bowled in the first three days, Pattinson charged in.
The 15 overs he sent down on the first day cost him 81 runs, albeit in his first international outing for six weeks which meant some understandable traces of rust.
Today, the 25-year-old bowled 12 more overs for the vastly superior return of 3-29, made even more worthy in the knowledge that batters had to be prised rather than blasted out on the grassy but slow Hagley surface.
With the biting easterly wind pushing across his right shoulder and with the Australians managing to gain hints of reverse swing despite the lush Hagley outfield proving an unhelpful ally in scuffing the ball’s surface, Pattinson was the spearhead of Australia’s victory push.
The delivery that he produced to knock over Martin Guptill, whose credentials as a Test opener continue to dwindle after today’s 12-ball duck, gave his team hope that there was more to the day three pitch than simply banging it in and waiting for an error.
Having decided he would not follow the McCullum template of day one and tee off in the knowledge he would eventually receive a ball that outdid him, Guptill studiously set himself for an innings of substance.
Which amounted to precisely nought when Pattinson compelled him to drive at a delivery of impeccable length that moved away just enough to find the bat’s edge on the way through to the keeper’s gloves.
Guptill’s more capable opening partner Tom Latham joined Williamson, the man who will fill McCullum’s dauntingly large shoes as his nation’s next captain, to take the Black Caps 58 runs closer to parity by playing in a similar manner to Australia’s studious top order.
Until Latham surrendered his wicket in circumstances frustratingly similar to the manner in which so many of his opponents perished over the preceding day – gloving a ball that might have otherwise passed unimpeded past his right hip had he not tried to nudge it on the leg side.
With his tail up but his foot firmly behind the line, Pattinson set about working over Henry Nicholls in the second Test of what shapes as a handy international career.
Amid the steady diet of sharp, short balls amid gathering cloud, Pattinson would then slip a fast, full one that the greenhorn batsman was drawn to play with feet anchored firmly in the crease.
The first yielded a farcical delay of almost five minutes when countless video angles were studied, replayed, scrutinised again and re-examined before the seemingly obvious conclusion that ball had passed untouched beneath bat was reached.
To derisive chants from the crowd not yet that restless to see McCullum begins his final innings for his country.
The next was far more clear-cut, an outside edge squeezed low and quickly towards the left shin of second slip where Steve Smith again confirmed he has few peers as a close catcher in Test cricket.
Pattinson’s typically enthusiastic celebration of the double breakthrough that reduced the Black Caps to 3-72 and still 63 runs in arrears quickly gave way to the standing, unstinting applause that accompanied McCullum all the way to the middle.
To which the Australians joined in, although another guard of honour was deemed surplus to recognition.
Given the circumstance of the match, which NZ need to win to tie the series and deny Australia the world number one ranking, it would have seemed feasible that their leader and most experienced Test player – the only Kiwi to post a Test triple century – might opt for caution.
Having seen Voges and Lyon (a self-confessed Test number 11) negotiate New Zealand’s five-man seam attack and two part-timers for almost an entire session under cloud that was supposed to benefit bowler, he might have backed himself to simply survive into day four.
Knowing that Australia’s top-order players had found few difficulties playing the ball off the surface and instead fell to self-inflicted wounds when trying to search for runs may well have convinced other Test skippers to invoke defensive mode.
Seeing his bowlers had toiled so hard to take those final six wickets for 142 runs in a triumph for patience and persistence, the captain could have easily been tempted to inflict similar pain on Australia’s attack and give his home town fans another chance to farewell him from cricket when finally dismissed tomorrow.
Or even on Wednesday, as has happened before.
But McCullum is not the kind of player, and doesn’t subscribe to that captaincy playbook.
After 100 and a half Tests, he knows how he best plays and that his value to any team he captains or contributes to is his willingness to back his instincts and gamble on his strengths.
For 21 of the 22 deliveries he faced during his half-hour farewell that game plan held him in good stead and briefly fuelled misgivings in the Australians that he might just pull off one final game-changer in his very final outing.
An inside edge past the stumps for four hinted that fortune might be with him again.
A thrash through gully and then a whirling pull shot six beyond the mid-wicket rope suggested he had slipped into that gear that saw him hurtle to a Test record hundred on Saturday.
But one ball later he was gone, a miscued attempt to clear mid-wicket again intercepted by David Warner moving like a goalkeeper to his right, and with him conceivably went his team’s chance to snatch the Test violently away from Australia.
Throughout the remaining 40 minutes, the crowd sat quiet and subdued, contemplating the passing of an era and the outside hope of a Test that might be saved.
But that job now lies in the hands of McCullum’s successor, and beyond the reach of the man himself.