Australia will ask New Zealand to attempt a world-record run chase after their pace attack, led by Pat Cummins, gave the hosts a seemingly unassailable lead in the Boxing Day Test.
The Aussies went to stumps at 137-4 on day three, leading the Black Caps by a mammoth 456 runs after they rolled them for just 148 at the MCG on Saturday. No team has ever chased more than 418 in a Test, with the Aussies having set a similar target of 468 in Perth just a fortnight ago in their 296-run win.
Cummins took 5-28 as New Zealand never looked like getting close to Australia’s first-innings score of 467. James Pattinson also claimed three scalps in his Test return, while Mitchell Starc’s strong summer continued with 2-30.
David Warner (38) and Marnus Labuschagne (19) then fell in the pursuit of quick runs, while Joe Burns was more patient in his 100-ball 38. Steve Smith was also again out trying to pull Neil Wagner, marking the fourth time he has fallen to a short-ball from the left armer in as many innings this series.
But it was an otherwise perfect day for Australia after Cummins started the rot with the wickets of Ross Taylor and Henry Nicholls in consecutive balls. The world’s No1 quick bowled with great accuracy and consistency, regularly bowling a fourth-stump line to draw edges from the New Zealand batters.
Tom Latham provided the only real resistance for the Black Caps before Cummins had him caught behind for 50, to go with his other victims Tom Blundell and Tim Southee.
Pattinson’s haul of 3-34 will make for some testing time for selectors if Josh Hazlewood overcomes a hamstring strain in time for the final Test starting in Sydney on Friday. Hazlewood remains some chance of proving his fitness, but it’s understood he is unlikely to be risked if Australia go there up 2-0.
After taking the prized scalp of Kane Williamson on Friday, Pattinson removed BJ Watling and Mitchell Santner on Saturday in his first Test back on home soil in almost four years.
“When you speak to guys playing (Sheffield) Shield or county cricket, they speak of him (Pattinson) as though he is one of the best bowlers in the world,” Cummins said. “We all know that – and for him to come out in front of his home fans and for everyone to see it on TV rather than in Shield cricket – great.
“That (depth) has been really prevalent in the past 12 months. We speak a lot about this group of fast bowlers that we want to keep together.”
Starc also claimed two wickets, with Colin de Grandhomme caught at gully for 11 from a delivery that angled across him and beat him with bounce before he clean bowled Trent Boult. It took Starc’s tally for the summer to a team-best 25 wickets at 14.60.
New Zealand must at least draw in Melbourne to keep alive their unbeaten run in Test series, which dates back to late 2017. The task looks beyond them given they are yet to survive more than 66 overs in an innings this series.
“(Their bowling) was pretty relentless. They didn’t really let us have anything,” Latham said. “The way they executed was spot on from a bowling point of view and the way we handled it was not the way we wanted to.”