Marshall's ton puts New Zealand in control
Hamish Marshall proved that he was a big-game batsman with a fabulous century as New Zealand produced a wildly successful start to the Test series. Down, almost out, and riddled with injuries after a 5-0 one-day loss to Australia, New Zealand's new players carefully constructed an innings that has briefly erased the past month's fragility.
Nathan Astle and Craig McMillan, men with regular disappointments against Australia, were pushed down the order, and the fresh breaths of Marshall and Craig Cumming drew the responsibility for riding over the world champions. Cumming's patient, pull-happy 74 set up a solid grounding, and Marshall showed his weathered team-mates that the Australians could even be dominated as they added 108 in the final session to reach 265 for 3 at stumps.
Marshall was the only batting bright spot during the one-day series, and could have been sneaked into the side at No. 6. Instead he tramped out at first drop for his third Test and stamped a century. Owning a first-class average of 27.51, Marshall, 26, was without a provincial-level hundred until this season. He now has an innings that makes his domestic figures an anomaly rather than an excuse for non-selection. Stephen Fleming will be delighted by the flutter while Ricky Ponting - although he won't say it - will be wishing he had plumped for Brett Lee after his fast bowlers collected only one wicket.
Unshakeable against the pace, Marshall was not afraid of Shane Warne either, smacking him back over his head for a brave early six. Apart from the journey through the late nineties that must have had his frizzy hair standing on end, Marshall's major moment of discomfort came when Gillespie hit him on the forearm. The rich bruise became another memento on the way to raising his hundred with a split-watermelon smile, and he walked off with a polished 103 from 198 balls with 14 fours.
The main disappointment was so few people saw the innings live. Jade Stadium's stands were sprinkled at best, as supporters stayed away to work and think about the Canterbury Crusaders' start to the Super 12 season. The atmosphere sounded more like a first-class match, and the lack of attention will please Australia.
Cumming scored at his own jogging pace in a debut half-century from 152 balls that was the first sign that Ponting had made two mistakes before play. Australia decided to hand Lee the drinks, and Ponting sent in his opponents for the first time in his captaincy on a pitch that became increasingly placid. The choices may prove to be minor over the next four days - he experienced a similar lazy start to the home series in November before hitting back with an innings victory - but they forced a difficult opening to a three-Test series they are expected to breeze through.
Two dropped catches off Glenn McGrath, a constant but unsuccessful threat, compounded the frustration and four-man conferences had already begun by the second session. Plan D worked for Cumming, who threw away his chance of a century when he pulled Michael Kasprowicz to one of three fielders hovering around square leg at the first opportunity. Another Ponting gamble was successful when he called on Michael Clarke to scurry through a couple of overs ahead of the second new ball. Many changes and field placings didn't work, but this one did with the help of Aleem Dar's doubtful lbw decision, and Lou Vincent's return after a year away was over for 27.
The bowlers failed to use the early assistance of a two-coloured pitch and cloudy conditions, and while Lee was chewing his fingers in the dressing-room Ponting was desperately trying to send catches to deep square leg. New Zealand deserve more credit for switching on Australia's defence when the sun came out.
But the big early talking-point was the omission of Lee. "It was a very tough decision to leave Brett out after the way he's bowled, but the guys who are there have done well over a long period," said Ponting. Kasprowicz was nagging and dangerous at times, but Jason Gillespie performed without spark.
The Lee bonus relieved batsmen who had jumped through the ODIs, and the openers Cumming and Fleming added a gritty, sometimes risky, 56. Fleming's runs were ugly and he survived two close calls, but he delayed Marshall's appearance until the 26th over, when he missed a sweep off Warne. Marshall accepted his captain's help and repaid him in satisfying style.
Fleming lbw b Warne 18 (56 for 1)
Missed frustrated sweep in Warne's third over and was hit on front pad, impressing David Shepherd.
Cumming c Gillespie b Kasprowicz 74 (153 for 2)
Thoughtlessly pulled Kasprowicz to midwicket, falling to a glaring trap.
Vincent lbw b Clarke 27 (199 for 3)
Seemed to change his mind from a flick to a defensive shot, and was hit on the front leg with the ball sliding down leg.
Peter English is Australasian editor of Cricinfo.