Hussey and Ponting set up Australia
Michael Hussey and Ricky Ponting produced contrasting half-centuries on a day when Australia continued to control the second Test but could not bury New Zealand in perfect batting conditions. At stumps the hosts were 3 for 241, 29 behind New Zealand's below-par 270, and had lost a couple of opportunities to ensure they were the only ones capable of winning the game.
There were times when the Australians seemed to be racing away, particularly in the middle session, but the visitors were able to hang on, although they will need early wickets on the third day if they harbour visions of levelling the series. Hussey grafted to an unbeaten 69 from 178 deliveries after Ponting shone with a classy 79 to lift the side after both openers departed before lunch.
The pair's 106-run third-wicket stand settled Australia as Ponting, who rattled 13 fours in his 124-ball stay, showed everyone how to bat on the placid pitch. However, he donated his wicket when aiming a pull to the two-metre Peter Fulton at midwicket without adding to his tea score. As he left, following a brief exchange with the bowler Iain O'Brien, he knew a big score had been handed in that would have pushed New Zealand out of the game.
"I felt almost every ball was hit in the middle but I pulled up the innings a bit earlier than I would have liked," Ponting said. "I got it about an inch from the middle but it just happened to go to the world's tallest man."
Ponting brought up his fifty with two offside fours in an O'Brien over and at that stage 44 of his 53 runs had come from finding the rope. A pull off O'Brien stood out while he also looked comfortable against the impressive spin of Daniel Vettori, who gave up less than two runs an over in 28 of them. It was a hard day for New Zealand's cloned fast-bowling attack and O'Brien was the only one to experience success.
No batsman in this game has matched the ease with which Ponting has played and the performance had the indirect effect of making Hussey stand out. While Ponting purred, Hussey struggled and fought, defended and scrambled. There were occasional breakthroughs, when he was allowed to drive or pull, but until Ponting's dismissal he was batting with constraints.
After Ponting left Hussey became the senior partner and relaxed, playing a couple of strong pulls from Vettori to bring up his half-century from 146 balls. Even during Hussey's struggles there was no concern and he achieved his aim of reaching stumps. He will hope for more freedom on the third day and will start with Michael Clarke, who eased to 43, for company.
Matthew Hayden started the innings in an intimidating manner in his 100th Test, but his hopes of a long stay were upset when he was run-out for 24 in a mix-up with Simon Katich. After struggling for consistency since returning from a heel injury in India, Hayden was untroubled until he pushed Vettori to mid-on, called for a single and turned around too late when Katich wasn't interested.
It was Hayden's second run-out in the past three Tests. Katich quickly joined his partner when squirting a bat-pad catch to Jesse Ryder off Vettori, who found a bit of rough, and departed with 23.
New Zealand, who started the second morning at 6 for 262, added only eight runs and lasted another 8.3 overs, with Brett Lee picking up four wickets. Any hope of a long partnership between McCullum and Vettori was ended in the third over when McCullum pushed away from his body on 30 and edged to Brad Haddin, who took a smart catch low to the ground.
Johnson's bouncer forced Tim Southee (2) into a fend to Katich at leg gully before Lee added his second and third wickets of the morning. Lee's figures of 4 for 66 were his best since May and it was a timely haul following his struggles in India. Johnson finished with 2 for 56 from 25 overs to follow Nathan Hauritz's two wickets on the opening day.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo