Domain Test Series v New Zealand
Australia build mammoth lead after Cummins' heroics
Australia will head into day four with a commanding lead after a day that saw their pace brigade rip through New Zealand
Andrew Ramsey at the MCG
28 December 2019, 11:59 PM AEST
The pace attack rated by many as the world's best justified that unofficial tag by reducing to rubble the batting line-up of the second-ranked Test team and, in the process, lifting Australia to an unassailable position in the battle for the Trans-Tasman Trophy.
Five wickets to Pat Cummins in concert with James Pattinson (three) and Mitchell Starc (two) saw New Zealand shot out for 148 – their lowest first innings Test score on Australia turf – which rendered the visitors 319 runs in deficit.
By the close of day three, that disparity had widened to 456, with Matthew Wade (15no) and first innings century-maker Travis Head (12no) to resume batting on day four.
Australia already hold a 1-0 lead in the three-match Domain Series courtesy of their crushing 296-run win in Perth earlier this month, and it's only a remarkable rearguard batting effort by the Black Caps that can avoid a similarly hefty defeat at the MCG over coming days.
Notwithstanding an overnight declaration, Tim Paine is expected to close his team's innings before lunch on Sunday which would leave five sessions (with minimal threat of rain amid Melbourne's forecast heat) to let loose his quicks and spinner Nathan Lyon on the Kiwis’ shell-shocked batting line-up.
Not only would that leave five sessions for his red-hot bowling battery to pound what remains of the tourists' dwindling morale into the dust, it would also ensure NZ's seamers are forced to undertake another power of work with only three days' rest before the final Test starts in Sydney.
That demand was even heavier on the already over-worked Neil Wagner when his fellow left-arm seamer Trent Boult was out of action for much of the day's final session as he underwent scans on his right hand which was injured when struck by a bouncer from Starc at the end of NZ's innings.
After play, it was confirmed Boult had fractured his hand and would be sent home at the conclusion of the Test, in yet another blow for the tourists.
The inconsistency of the teams' relative positions on the official ICC Test rankings prior to this series – the Black Caps second (behind India) with Australia fifth – has been exposed as fake news largely because of the dominance of the home team's pace bowlers.
After Starc's nine wickets with the pink ball in Perth, it was Cummins' turn to scythe through the Kiwis and his 5-28 from 17 relentless overs represented his best figures in Australia since his 6-27 against India at the same venue a year earlier.
The world's top-ranked Test bowler took the ball from the resumption of play this morning – with NZ 2-44 in reply to Australia's first innings 467 – and immediately stamped his authority on the day.
The first ball of his second over of the morning saw veteran Ross Taylor, seen as the mainstay of the Black Caps' batting after skipper Kane Williamson's dismissal the previous evening, aim a drive that yielded only an outside edge that flew at pace towards third slip.
Marnus Labuschagne had been brought a few paces closer to the batter to ensure any misjudged defensive prod might carry to him, and he was nearly knocked off his feet by the chance which was fortuitously parried to Joe Burns stationed at traditional first slip.
Cummins' next delivery speared through the defence of Henry Nicholls and thundered into his front pad, having swung violently into the left-hander from around the wicket.
Cummins' vociferous appeal was lost amid the roar from fans – one that was only amplified when umpire Marais Erasmus slowly raised his finger – and Nicholls' decision to review the verdict only meant he had more time to dwell upon his first-ball duck before trudging from the field.
It was only the broad blade of BJ Watling that prevented the Australia vice-captain completing a hat-trick, and the crowd would have been whipped further into euphoria next over had the usually reliable Steve Smith held a sharp chance at slip.
Pattinson drew a false stroke from NZ opener Tom Latham who had endured almost two hours for his nine runs, and the resultant catch flew directly at Burns before Smith – doubtless mindful of the one-handed screamer he held on to at Perth – launched himself to his right only for the ball to smack into his outstretched wrist.
Given that Latham had shown himself to be the only top-order NZ batter likely to resist Australia's rampant attack for any time, the miss might have caused the hosts to feel they had squandered their best chance of a huge first-innings lead.
That was until Pattinson produced perhaps the delivery of the day, a ball that flew like a fast leg-break from back of a length and grazed the bat shoulder and glove of the startled striker as he sought to protect his face, before ballooning off his bicep to Burns' safe grasp at slip.
In a disastrous first hour, the Kiwis had lost 3-14 in barely seven overs of carnage, which would have been compounded shortly after drinks if Lyon's swift pick-up and throw had hit the stumps with allrounder Colin de Grandhomme well short of his ground completing a needlessly risky single.
As it was, de Grandhomme perished by his own misadventure to deliver Starc his first wicket by limply pushing a short delivery to gully.
Starc looked to have snared a second two balls later when Mitchell Santner attempted to fend away a fearsome bouncer that appeared to strike the batter's right wrist before looping to leg gully.
Umpire Erasmus's refusal to uphold the ensuing appeal prompted Paine to call for a review, despite his doubts over the reliability of the off-field adjudication processes he had aired after a couple of debatable lbw decisions on Friday.
After close examination of countless super slo-mo frames and infrared images, third umpire Aleem Dar decreed there was no compelling evidence upon which to overturn the on-field ruling even though there seemed to be an obvious disturbance of the elastic wristband that formed part of Santner's protective glove.
The decision might have provided another flashpoint for the burgeoning outrage industry, but it had little material impact on the unfolding batting disaster.
In the space of an hour's play after lunch, NZ's final four wickets were lost for the addition of 46 runs, more than half of which were added by last pair Boult and Neil Wagner who swung their bats as much with hope as studied defiance.
The end was nigh from the moment Latham's 236-minute vigil ended shortly after he reached 50, yet another Black Caps batter to present a catch to keeper Paine after aiming an ambitious drive at Cummins.
It was hauntingly similar to the manner in which Santner (to Pattinson) and then Tim Southee (to Cummins) surrendered their wickets, before Boult fell in vaguely comic circumstances by getting so far across his crease to a Starc yorker that the ball clipped leg stump so delicately, barely anybody noticed.
Holding a lead of 319 and with the Test having hardly reached its midway point, it was no surprise that Australia chose to bat again rather than enforce the follow-on especially given the proximity of the New Year Test at the SCG starting January 3.
What was also not overly surprising, given the turn of events against a similar match backdrop in Perth last week, was the clatter of Australia wickets in the final session as they looked to expand their lead against some typically parsimonious NZ bowling.
David Warner gave the impression a declaration was imminent when having reached 38 from 65 balls, he stepped a metre to the leg side of his stumps and slapped a catch to the left of cover point where Tom Blundell held a sharp catch.
The quest for quick runs brought the wicket of Labuschagne after he hared off for a daring single but was unableto beat Latham's rifle-like throw and Santner's sublime gather at the bowler's end that saw Australia's in-form number three run out for 19.
Labuschagne's departure meant that only the man who replaced him in the middle – his close mate, Steve Smith – held the opportunity to usurp the Queenslander as the leading Test runs scorer for 2019.
Barring a second-innings triple century from either of England pair Ben Stokes and Joe Root in the current Test against South Africa at Centurion, Labuschagne's tally of 1104 runs in the calendar year remained within Smith's reach if the former Australia skipper posted a score of 150 in his team's second innings.
But Smith added just seven, falling in now familiar fashion to the short-ball ploy enacted by the indefatigable Wagner.
Smith had tried to employ a double-handed tennis smash to break the bouncer stranglehold, before paddling a half-hearted pull shot that lobbed obligingly into the hands of Southee strategically positioned at a deep leg gully.
As the Australia batting star threw back his head in disbelief, Wagner leaped in the air and punched the sky in joy at having claimed Smith's scalp for the fourth time in as many innings and – by doing so – reaching 200 Test wickets.
The South Africa-born seamer is just the seventh NZ bowler to reach that milestone and did so with an average (26.58) bettered only by that nation's greatest-ever Test bowler, Sir Richard Hadlee, who was watching the day's play from a function room in the MCG's Ponsford Stand.
It was Hadlee's heroics that powered NZ to their sole Test series win in Australia 34 years ago, but not even his genius could find a way out of the bind in which the Black Caps find themselves.
Australia XI: David Warner, Joe Burns, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Matthew Wade, Travis Head, Tim Paine (c, wk), Pat Cummins, James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon
New Zealand XI: Tom Latham, Tom Blundell, Kane Williamson (c), Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, BJ Watling (wk), Colin de Grandhomme, Mitchell Santner, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, Trent Boult.
Domain Test Series v New Zealand
Australia squad: David Warner, Joe Burns, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Matthew Wade, Travis Head, Tim Paine (c, wk), Pat Cummins, Mitch Starc, Nathan Lyon, James Pattinson, Michael Neser, Mitchell Swepson
New Zealand: Todd Astle, Tom Blundell, Trent Boult, Colin de Grandhomme, Matt Henry, Kyle Jamieson, Tom Latham, Henry Nicholls, Jeet Raval, Mitchell Santner, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, BJ Watling, Neil Wagner, Kane Williamson (c)
First Test: Australia won by 296 runs in Perth
Second Test: December 26-30, MCG (Seven, Fox & Kayo)
Third Test: January 3-7, SCG (Seven, Fox & Kayo)