November 24, 2001

Two tough days ahead of Kiwis before they are safe

Unless New Zealand suffer two dramatic collapses in Hobart over the next two days the third Test in the series with Australia, starting next week in Perth, looks like providing the deciding match.

A heavy thunderstorm which drenched Bellerive Oval in Hobart midway through the afternoon session of the third day of the second Test spelled the end of the day's play with New Zealand 2/71 in reply to Australia's 8/558 declared.

It was a painstaking day of batting from the New Zealanders as they attempted to grasp a foothold on the icy slopes of Mount Australian Cricket.

Whereas the Australians raced along at around four and a half runs an over almost throughout their innings, the New Zealanders found the much tighter bowling of a restored Glenn McGrath, a continuingly lethal Jason Gillespie and an increasingly confident Brett Lee, too frugal to attack as they would have liked.

When play was abandoned New Zealand's scoring rate was 2.02.

The target was always going to be to reach the comfort of the steep follow-on mark of 359, even if it took the remaining three days of the game to get there.

However, the weather gods have reduced the contest by offering New Zealand the shelter of the last two days which, on the basis of batting in the first Test, should be able to cope with the requirements to save the game.

Mark Richardson, growing with each innings he has played in the internationals, and Matthew Bell, unfortunately diminishing from the player who dominated New Zealand domestic cricket last year, scored only one run from the first six overs of the day.

Then, having started to get the pace of the pitch and the line of the bowlers, Bell succumbed to only the second ball bowled by Warne when he was introduced very early by Steve Waugh. It was a master stroke by Waugh, while the attempted sweep stroke by Bell looked too pre-meditated for his, or New Zealand's, good.

New Zealand were 1/11 and would have been two down later in the over had Steve Waugh held a very difficult chance from Mathew Sinclair.

There's never any doubt when Sinclair is at the crease. He is at his most natural when scoring often, and while he upped the risk factor with his batting, he was starting to find his feet when lunch intruded.

He and Richardson were on 23 each when the break was taken with New Zealand 1/53.

The caterers would not have had enough time to start their clean-up work before Sinclair was back for seconds having been dismissed off the first ball after lunch, bowled through the gate by Gillespie.

Skipper Fleming showed he was eager for the fray by passing the retreating Sinclair on the field of play, a rare but welcome sight nowadays, and beginning to resurrect the side's cause.

He and Richardson dug in again and when the players left the field moments before the storm struck, they had taken New Zealand to 2/71. Richardson was 25 and Fleming was 16.

But the most impressive aspect of the day was the Australian bowling.

McGrath had more of his renowned vigour and control and tested each of the batsmen he faced. He conceded the equivalent of one run an over during his 11 overs at the bowling crease, while Gillespie, after taking some time to settle, calibrated his sights correctly and made use of what the pitch had to offer, especially in Sinclair's dismissal.

Lee generated good speed and looked to be reaching his peak form, although bowling only six overs on the day. With South Africa just around the corner that has to be a welcome sight for the Australians.

And Warne, while finding a more united New Zealand approach to his bowling, faces a long and intriguing battle if Australia is to win this match had one for 25 from his seven overs.

A full day tomorrow will determine where this Test match goes. Play is scheduled to start at 10.30am Hobart time.