Katich stars as Australia take control
Simon Katich became the first Australian to carry his bat in a Test for more than a decade and set Australia on the path towards victory at the Gabba. New Zealand were barely in the hunt at stumps on the third day but Ross Taylor gave them a glimmer of hope in their chase of 327, which after they stumbled to 4 for 49 must have seemed as attainable as an Oscar for Paris Hilton.
But wickets kept falling around Taylor and the loss of Grant Elliott, who was bowled by a lively Stuart Clark on the last ball of the day, meant New Zealand's slim chances would largely rest with Taylor and the next man in, Daniel Vettori. A deficit of 183 appeared too steep for a team whose lower order in the first innings was about as useful as a Zimbabwean dollar.
The match could have been over already but for an 84-run stand between Taylor and Daniel Flynn, who picked the gaps with sensible shots and rarely took risks. Flynn was bowled by Mitchell Johnson for 29 and his departure encouraged the already attacking Taylor to go for a few more shots in his unbeaten 67, which ended a drought of seven Test innings in which he had failed to pass fifty.
Their chase had started in the worst possible fashion in the first over when Jamie How was drawn into a drive and edged to second slip off Brett Lee, who let out a roar of joy at picking up his 300th Test wicket. He became the fourth Australian to reach the milestone and, having picked up 2 for 38 in the first innings, it continued form turnaround following his tough tour of India.
Clark also regained his mojo with a pair of important breakthroughs, including a juggling return catch off Aaron Redmond and a positive lbw shout when Brendon McCullum padded up to a delivery that nipped back marginally. Johnson chipped in with Jesse Ryder, lbw for 24, and Katich's unbeaten 131 looked like it would be a matchwinning effort.
He carried not only his bat but also Australia's hopes - they had been in trouble at 6 for 115 late on the second afternoon. But Katich batted well with the tail and but for the 82 that Australia's last two pairs added, New Zealand could have been pursuing a much less daunting goal of around 250.
Katich combined with Johnson for an invaluable 53-run stand that featured some clean hitting from Johnson, who struck three fours and a powerful six over the head of the bowler Vettori. When Johnson miscued an attempted pull off Elliott and slapped the ball to mid-off for 31 the problems did not end for New Zealand. Clark kept the boundaries coming - he hit four in his 12-ball 18 - in a 29-run partnership.
When Clark holed out to mid-off Katich became the first Australian to remain unbeaten through a completed Test innings since Mark Taylor in Adelaide in 1997-98. It continued a terrific career renaissance for Katich, who now has four Test centuries since his recall in the Caribbean earlier this year.
He was bogged down early in the morning but grew in confidence and raced through the 90s within seven balls. A well-timed drive off Southee went so straight that the umpire Billy Doctrove had to practice his hurdling skills to allow it to run away to the boundary and the next ball Katich rolled his wrists perfectly in a textbook hook that smashed into the turf and flew away for four more.
The century came up with another boundary from his 179th delivery when he guided another hook fine off Iain O'Brien. Katich's broad grin was understandable - it was at the same venue in 2005 that he failed against West Indies, was promptly dropped and faced the possibility of his Test career being over. The way he played in his return to the Gabba it was hard to imagine him ever having struggled.
He punched through gaps with confidence and struck 16 fours, making it difficult to understand how none of his top-order friends could pass 20. The pitch had lost some of its zing but it was never a minefield. Even when Katich did survive some near misses he was already well set. O'Brien put down a hard but catchable return chance when the batsman had 70 and Ryder at short leg also missed a sharp but gettable opportunity off Vettori when Katich was on 86. The mistakes were not fatal for New Zealand, but they were costly.
Equally frustrating for Vettori was his team's inability to remove Katich's tail-end partners, or at least shut down their scoring. Vettori had done his part earlier in the day when he picked up both pre-lunch wickets as the seamers' impact eased. Lee found a novel way to get out when his inside edge squeezed between his legs and onto the stumps - had he been wearing inner-thigh pads the ball might not have got through. Vettori had already disturbed the stumps of Brad Haddin, who played the wrong line to an arm ball and was out for 19.
But Katich ensured New Zealand would need to chase down nearly double what they made in the first innings. Their first Test win in Australia since 1985 was not completely out of the question at stumps on day three, but after the late losses of Flynn and Elliott, another tail-end collapse loomed as a more likely scenario.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo