As much as this series has packed into two Test matches, one element missing was high pace. James Pattinson changed all that on the third evening at Hagley Oval, summoning a frightening spell that cut deep into New Zealand’s batting and helped bring about the end of Brendon McCullum’s storied international career.
On a day when Neil Wagner’s persistent short-ball attack had already been rewarded with a flurry of wickets after lunch, as New Zealand restricted Australia’s first-innings lead, Pattinson showed how speed can transcend conditions. His hostility and reverse swing left the hosts 14 runs in deficit with only six wickets remaining ahead of day four.
Always a rhythm bowler, Pattinson had not quite found his form on day one and also bowled the fateful no-ball that cost Australia McCullum’s wicket. This time his pace and seam position were very much in sync, accounting for Martin Guptill, Tom Latham and Henry Nicholls before boring in at McCullum.
While he did not take the wicket, Pattinson gave McCullum plenty to think about and on 25, the batsman slogged at Josh Hazlewood and was wonderfully caught by David Warner at midwicket. He and Steven Smith shook the departing McCullum’s hand but both know that victory and the world No. 1 Test ranking is now within reach.
Adam Voges and the nightwatchman Nathan Lyon had played serenely in the early part of the day, but Voges’ departure to the pull short, after the fashion of Joe Burns and Smith, heralded the loss of quick wickets. In all, Australia’s last six wickets tallied only 67.
Wagner’s energy and commitment to banging the ball into the pitch was not sophisticated, but over time it worked wonders on a surface given to the occasional bout of variable pace. His celebrations grew in exuberance at each wicket, as Australia’s advantage was limited.
For Voges, it was another instance of applying the sturdy, calculated approach that has brought him runs at a scarcely believable rate in recent times. Momentarily his Test batting average again cleared 100, the only man to occupy that rarified air above Sir Donald Bradman.
There had been more ambitious hopes for New Zealand when play began, following up on last evening’s dual dismissals. Wagner resumed with a similar line of attack, peppering Voges and Lyon with short stuff.
Partly through determination and good technique, partly due to the docile character of the pitch, the batsmen were able to stand up to this examination, as Lyon repeatedly covered the bounce and dead-batted it near his feet.
Runs flowed a little more freely after those early overs, though neither batsman played with extravagance. Voges offered a neat cut shot here, a checked drive there, while Lyon worked the ball around with the earnest intent of a man who would like to bat further up the order more often