Cricket: NZ endure a harsh lesson

By Dylan Cleaver

And now for the good news - New Zealand did not concede a single wide or no-ball. They have no problems with over rates and Daniel Vettori was once again superb.

Now for the not-so-good news.

Adelaide might be a long way from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, but the Groundhog Day recurring nightmare theme is the same: another test match, another harsh lesson for New Zealand.

Australia rammed home the advantage created for them by New Zealand's limp first innings 270, by posting 241-3 at stumps on day two, a deficit of just 29 with seven wickets in hand.

Michael Hussey has crawled to 69 in a little more than two sessions, while Michael Clarke has breezed uneventfully to 43.

New Zealand are losing because they are over-matched and outclassed. They do not lack fight, just ability.

In fact, that fight was demonstrated during one of the few moments of optimism yesterday.

When Ricky Ponting (79), in the midst of a minor classic, slapped an Iain O'Brien long-hop straight to Peter Fulton, he was given a gesture and a gobful by O'Brien and, when the batsman countered, by Vettori for good measure.

It was not particularly enriching stuff - send-offs are lame at the best of times and this wasn't the best of times - but at least it showed that it is not reputations that are bothering New Zealand.

Ponting played down the incident later, saying the only thing he was bothered about was the fact he'd hit it to the world's tallest man, and it did not capture the attention of match referee Chris Broad.

Perhaps O'Brien will argue that he was merely celebrating the fact he had become the first New Zealand seamer to take a test wicket at the Adelaide Oval since Sir Richard Hadlee had Bruce Reid caught behind by Ian Smith in December 1987.

Otherwise, moments of joy were few and far between. There will be satisfaction that they spoiled Matthew Hayden's 100th test celebrations. A smart piece of work by Jamie How and some dumb running saw him return to the hutch with 24 next to his name, continuing a run of poor form.

Simon Katich, the barnacle at Brisbane, went soon after, caught bat-pad after a fine piece of bowling from Vettori. Hussey was impressed. "He was outstanding. I think he bowled one bad ball all day to me," he said.

McCullum, too, had plenty of praise, saying it was a shame that he had to bowl at the downwind end to make use of the footmarks.

"You've got to give your best bowler the best opportunities though," he said.

The seamers toiled but none of them could find any penetration on this most placid of pitches. O'Brien was expensive, Chris Martin was steady but Tim Southee looked as if he was wrestling with his action.

If anything, Jesse Ryder looked the best of them, which cannot be a great sign. Even after the refreshing properties of an ice-bath, or whatever it is they do these days, they will not be looking forward to another day of hard labour today.

If you're looking for a best-case scenario, it would be Vettori getting some purchase tomorrow and restricting Australia to a manageable lead.

The batsmen would then capitalise on the sort of starts they made on Friday, before Vettori spun them to victory on the final day.

McCullum, though, acknowledged the size of the task, saying the top six, seven now with his demotion in the order, had yet to show the sort of resilience required to post the sort of total needed.

"It was hugely disappointing to lose four for eight on a flat wicket and... where we are sitting at at the moment is well behind the eight ball so we've got a lot of work to do. But we've got to stay positive. We know we are a long way behind but you have to have the confidence, otherwise there is no reason to roll up tomorrow.

"We need to bat like Michael Hussey did. He is a phenomenal player and the way he played today was pretty much the perfect innings so we have to take a lot out of that and hopefully our inexperienced top six can follow suit."

Divine intervention, though, might be New Zealand's best chance. And if Vettori is the genuflecting kind, he might pause to give thanks to the Almighty for Bangladesh.

If not for the Subcontinent minnows, Vettori and his lesser team-mates would be staring at their sixth loss in seven tests, stretching back to what now seems an utterly implausible victory against England at Hamilton.

Incidentally, Ross Taylor scored a century in that Seddon Park outing and only he and Jacob Oram, at

Lord's, have managed to achieve three figures since.

If that pattern continues when New Zealand bat again, either late today or tomorrow, the cause will be lost. And the groundhogs will gather.

- Herald on Sunday

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