Katich the key as wickets tumble
Simon Katich was the main man standing between New Zealand and a gettable fourth-innings chase at the Gabba, where 16 wickets tumbled on an eventful second day. Mitchell Johnson led Australia's fast men back into form as they bundled New Zealand out for 156 but they will need to retain that spark on the third day after New Zealand's seamers were equally dangerous in Australia's second innings.
Australia closed the day with a lead of 189, which was a handy but hardly intimidating buffer. Ricky Ponting said at the toss the pitch looked under-prepared by a day due to the storms earlier in the week and more resembled a Gabba Sheffield Shield surface than a typical Brisbane Test pitch. He was spot on. In the two Sheffield Shield games that have been held at the venue this season, quality batsmen faced a task as hopeless as becoming Chris Martin's batting coach.
There was so much spice in the pitches that the average for completed innings totals across the two state games was 185. It should have come as no surprise that after Australia battled to 214, New Zealand would be bundled out for 156 - the mean of those two totals is also 185. According to the numbers Australia could almost have enough, though they will feel far from comfortable.
They would have been seriously concerned but for the effort of Katich, who displayed powerful concentration in compiling a half-century that featured several terrific drives through off-side gaps. He continued the trend of the game - batsmen willing to apply themselves could succeed, although most of the men from both teams lacked patience.
A couple of the Australians in the second innings lacked luck as well. Matthew Hayden received a peach of an offcutter first ball and edged behind off Martin and Michael Hussey was wrongly given caught behind off an Iain O'Brien delivery that clearly brushed pad only. New Zealand also continued their excellent fielding and a side-on direct hit from Aaron Redmond caught Michael Clarke short for 9.
Worryingly for Australia two of their most important batsmen, Ricky Ponting and Andrew Symonds, fell to injudicious shots having made reasonable starts. Ponting, who was impatient in the first innings as well, top-edged a pull off O'Brien and Symonds edged behind trying to hook. When Shane Watson was lbw to Martin late in the day, it completed a magnificent session for New Zealand's consistent seamers.
The bowlers did need to fire after they failed to offer a resolute Daniel Flynn any assistance with the bat. Flynn was justified in playing a watchful innings after he came to the crease at 4 for 73 when his top-order colleagues had failed to capitalise on their starts. But he was left stranded on 39 as the final four wickets fell for 13 and none of the bottom five batsmen reached double-figures.
The only disappointment for Australia in the dying stages of New Zealand's innings was that Johnson missed out on the best chance he will ever have of taking a Test hat-trick. Johnson collected three wickets in six balls, beginning with Daniel Vettori, who prodded to point for 2, and following with Tim Southee for a duck in similar fashion from the last ball of the same over.
When Johnson began his next over by having O'Brien caught at slip, the bowler was on a hat-trick in the dreamiest possible circumstances. The new man was Martin, arguably the worst batsman in modern Test cricket, who has made 23 Test ducks, has reached double-figures only against Bangladesh, and averages 2.38. All Johnson had to do was aim at the stumps; his delivery was too short and sailed past Martin's edge. Johnson earned Test best figures of 4 for 30 but it was Clark who wrapped up the innings, which was fitting after he started the job when he picked up Redmond with the first ball of the day.
Redmond tentatively nudged at a short-of-a-length delivery he should have left, and edged to slip. Brett Lee soon outsmarted Jamie How, who was bowled reaching at a fullish delivery after successfully driving a similar ball for four earlier in the over. But Jesse Ryder and Ross Taylor played their natural attacking style and, chasing a relatively small total, it seemed like a productive method.
It was the first taste Australian fans had been given of Ryder and he no doubt won some admirers, as much for as his play as for Tony Greig's imitation-inviting description that Ryder had "partied pretty hard" earlier this year. Ryder's stay was eventful and he suffered a blow to the groin from Lee so painful that his knees buckled almost immediately.
He was also put down on 11 when Brad Haddin dived in front of first slip, who could have taken the edge comfortably, and grassed the chance. Ryder confidently struck five fours in his 30, including a cracking back-foot drive off Lee, before he lazily waved his bat wide outside off with his feet rooted to the crease and gifted Watson the first of his two wickets.
Taylor was typically aggressive as well and slashed boundaries through the off side with equal parts bravado and good fortune, until he became Lee's 299th Test victim when he was lbw to an inswinger in the first over after lunch. Johnson picked up the prize wicket of Brendon McCullum, caught at slip for 8, and Grant Elliott was bowled off his pads by Watson for 9.
Johnson finished with four wickets and Watson, Lee and Clark picked up two each, easing the pressure on Australia's selectors after they were widely queried for choosing four fast men and leaving out the offspinner Jason Krejza. Predictably, their over rate was atrocious - they averaged 12 overs an hour - but lifting their speed did not appear to be a priority for Ponting.
It will hardly matter. Even the thunderstorms forecast for Brisbane on Saturday will not prevent a result in a match that has brought 26 wickets and 501 runs in two days. And over-rates will seem trivial to Ponting if the outcome is a negative one.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo