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Cricket: Black Caps clinging to survival

Brendon McCullum departs as Australia celebrate. Photo / Getty
Brendon McCullum departs as Australia celebrate. Photo / Getty

With two full days to play in the opening test, New Zealand appeared to be at their capacity for survival at stumps on the third day.

New Zealand reached 178 for four and faced a deficit of 201 runs to make Australia chase in a fourth innings. Their original two-and-a-half day mortgage had been 379 after Australia made 562 in their first innings.

New Zealand were on the cusp of passing their examination but the final act of the day tipped the scales against them. Captain Brendon McCullum was adjudged lbw for 10 to Mitchell Marsh. His final test outing at the venue could not be resuscitated via DRS. Debutant Henry Nicholls was 31 not out.

Before McCullum's exit New Zealand had probably lost one too many wickets to have passed with flying colours but, by the same token, there was no evidence of hauling up the white flag.

The match was played under the backdrop of a fire on the Mt Victoria hillside, but the Black Caps did not self-combust.

Amid the cacophony of sirens, Martin Guptill contributed a free-flowing 45 off 55 balls in an opening stand of 81 with Tom Latham. Guptill's flaming bat was doused by Nathan Lyon. His spinning delivery floated above Guptill's eyeline and dipped as the opener wound into a slog. Marsh circled backwards to take a steepling catch.

Tom Latham top-scored with 63 and Kane Williamson made 22.

Williamson's dismissal was arguably the key moment, given his test performances have become a barometer to how New Zealand fare. His contest with Josh Hazlewood was riveting. The Australian right-armer peppered him with balls, 14 out of 17 to be precise, channelled just outside off stump.

The Australians were jubilant that their plan worked.

New Zealand's test legacy in the Mike Hesson/McCullum coach/captain era faces its toughest scrutiny tomorrow.

Earlier, Adam Voges continued his extraordinary form to finish on 239. His caught and bowled to Mark Craig completed 614 runs between test dismissals. He assumed that mantle yesterday by surpassing Sachin Tendulkar's 497. That leaves him with a test average of 97.46 from 19 innings.

The resilience, fitness and techniques of the New Zealand batsmen face the microscope as they attempt to extend their 13 tests undefeated at home, a record level with their predecessors feats' from March 1987 to January 1992.

New Zealand will need to muster similar concentration powers in the third innings to what they did in 2014 and 2015 against India and Sri Lanka. They were dismissed for 221 (to face a 135-run deficit against Sri Lanka) and 192 (to face a 246-run deficit against India) but responded with declarations of 524-5 and 680-8 to win and draw those respective matches.

The Australians arguably have a more potent attack than those teams.

From a New Zealand perspective, the highlight of the morning was Corey Anderson's caught and bowled off Lyon. Thrown off balance in his follow-through, Anderson lurched from one foot to the other and threw his left hand at it. The ball stuck before he somersaulted forward as though dismounting from a vault. It provided another example of the modern game treating fans to some outstanding athleticism.

Each of the specialist New Zealand bowlers took two wickets.

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