Christchurch: Australia was 70-1 at stumps on Tuesday on the fourth day of the second cricket test against New Zealand, needing only 131 runs on the final day to clinch the series victory and re-establish itself as the top-ranked test nation.
Jackson Bird took 5-59 — his first five-wicket bag in tests — as New Zealand was dismissed for 335 in its second innings, leaving Australia a chase of 201 for a sweep of the two-match series which will allow it to reclaim the top ranking from India.
Century partnerships for New Zealand's fifth wicket, between Kane Williamson and Corey Anderson, and for the eighth wicket, between BJ Watling and Matt Henry, frustrated Australia's push for victory before the end of the fourth day.
Those frustrations bubbled over in the first session of the day when a series of appeals, referred to the television umpire, went against Australia, leading to a brief confrontation between captain Steve Smith and the on-field umpires.
But Bird, who was recalled for the series after an almost three-year absence from test cricket, rose to the occasion and helped slow New Zealand's momentum and put Australia back in position for the win.
Bird, who had only three wickets in the series until Tuesday, bowled Anderson for 40 and Williamson for 97, ending their partnership at 102 and denying Williamson his 14th test century and his ninth in the last 12 months.
Bird then dismissed Tim Southee for a duck two balls later to further break down New Zealand's resistance, leaving it with a lead at that point of only 75 runs.
Watling and Henry briefly halted the slump and pushed New Zealand to a lead that might have been unexpected when it started the fourth day at 121-4, still 14 runs behind.
But James Pattinson then dismissed Watling for 46 to break their 118-run stand and Bird bowled Henry for 66 to put the Australians back in control.
Australia's chase for 201 might have proven tricky on other last-day pitches. But the pitch at Hagley Oval remains in good condition, providing regular pace and bounce. The visitors started their second innings strongly, too, with David Warner and Joe Burns putting on 49 for the first wicket.
Warner was out for 22 in the 13th over when he gloved a ball down the leg side to wicketkeeper Watling from Neil Wagner, though the television umpire was needed again to confirm the dismissal after Warner was adjudged not out.
Burns — who made 170 in the first innings — was 27 not out and Usman Khawaja was 19 at stumps.
Still, New Zealand remained optimistic it could hold off the visitors on the final day.
"It's always nice to contribute with some runs but we need to get those wickets tomorrow," Henry said. "We've got some runs on the board that we can look to defend and if we can come out tomorrow and apply some pressure hopefully we can do that.
Published Date: Feb 23, 2016 11:47 am | Updated Date: Feb 23, 2016 11:47 am