Travis Head’s superb ton and Tim Paine’s valuable half-century helped Australia post a commanding first innings total, despite losing Steve Smith early on Day 2 of the second Test against New Zealand at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
After bundling out the hosts for 467, New Zealand batted for 18 overs and posted 44 runs on the board for the loss of opener Tom Blundell and skipper Kane Williamson.
Tim and Travis step up
Australia made a slow start to the day, scoring only 27 runs in the first hour.
Following the first drinks break, Neil Wagner bounced out Smith with a sharp short-ball. Henry Nicholls, at gully, timed his leap to perfection and latched onto the ball with his fingertips after Smith fended at a bouncer that got him high.
Australia’s talisman has been noticeably uncomfortable against Wagner’s brand of bowling this series and fell to the left-armer for the third time in the series.
Paine injected urgency to proceedings and played positively against the pacers. Meanwhile, at the other end, the southpaw grafted and reached his eighth half-century in his fledgling Test career.
The duo batted through the second session and put Australia in a strong position. At Tea, the hosts were sitting comfortably at 431 for five with both batsmen inching towards their respective centuries.
Kiwis make short work of the tail
Paine, managed to get to his highest individual score in ten years, but couldn’t carry on as Neil Wagner pinned him right in front of the stumps with his first delivery after Tea.
Once the partnership was broken, the Kiwis ran through the lower-order as the tail-enders fell while attempting to score some quick runs. The hosts lost their final five wickets for just 33 runs.
Meanwhile, Head, who had gone into the interval two runs short of the three-figure mark, got to the landmark figure with a slash through the point region.
He scored a few more boundaries before drilling a full toss straight to the fielder at cover. The middle-order batsman, who has been starved of chances in the series against Pakistan, did well to grab the opportunity at the MCG and finish as the top-scorer for the innings.
Pacers provide early breakthroughs
New Zealand’s new opening pair of Tom Blundell and Tom Latham lasted only 34 deliveries.
Blundell came out playing shots in his first-ever stint as an opener and struck a couple of crisp boundaries. However, he was sucked into flashing at a full delivery from Pat Cummins and, Paine held on to a simple chance to bring Kane Williamson to the middle, even before the start of the sixth over in the innings.
Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson and Cummins all bowled at rapid speeds and troubled the batsmen constantly in the evening.
Bowling in front of his home crowd, Pattinson got the important wicket of Williamson. The New Zealand skipper top-edged a short delivery and his counterpart sprinted back to take an excellent high catch.
New Zealand face an uphill task as they will start Day three 427 runs behind Australia. Against a fiery bowling unit, even on a fairly docile playing surface, they would have to bat out of their skins to save this match.
Day – 3, Stumps
New Zealand – 44/2 (Latham 9*, Taylor 2*; Pattinson 1-9)
Australia – 467 (Head 114, Smith 85, Paine 79; Wagner 4-83)