Honours even after Gilchrist and Vettori heroics
Adam Gilchrist catapulted Australia from the brief possibility of following on to trailing by 10 runs at the end of a swinging and absorbing day at Christchurch. Backed by Simon Katich, who scored 118 to seal his short-term career at No. 6, Gilchrist grabbed his cape to smash a century that threatened to break New Zealand for a second time this season.
But just as they started planning a lead of up to 100, Australia were finished off by the impressive Daniel Vettori as he collected five wickets following some stinging Gilchrist treatment. Batting at No. 8 once Jason Gillespie was used as a nightwatchman, Gilchrist arrived at 201 for 6 when another wicket could have exposed the tail to a nervous period to avoid batting again.
The 212-run seventh-wicket rescue act had a feeling of déjà vu for Stephen Fleming after his side controlled the game's first seven sessions. But the eighth, a 133-run jaunt in which Katich brought up his second Test century, proved the most damaging until Australia lost their last four wickets for 19 runs. New Zealand walked unscathed through six overs to be 9 for 0 at stumps.
Making 126 at Brisbane in November, Gilchrist's cracking display was overlooked as Michael Clarke crashed 141 to turn a losing situation into an innings victory. This match was heading in a similar direction until he holed out to Vettori chasing a seventh six in an innings devalued only by the regularity of his 14 Test centuries. Gilchrist's previous innings was an unforgettable 113 against Pakistan at Sydney. Before that was Brisbane, and four matches further back was the 104 at Bangalore. Two of those three responses came in the first game of the series when his side was in trouble.
The danger with Gilchrist's play is that the knocks will merge. His 121 came from 126 balls and was set up by an uninhibited attack on Vettori. Fuelled by lunch, Gilchrist targeted New Zealand's most dangerous bowler and planted him for three sixes in three overs, earning 29 runs. Tempo set, he rattled up more boundaries and despite changes in flight and speed, Vettori was unable to break through until Ian O'Brien caught a slight mishit at deep mid-off. The cruel treatment suddenly eased and Vettori wiped over Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath to finish with 5 for 106. Once again he had tricked Australia, but once again he was short of quality support as the game ran away.
Australia's turnaround from on their backs to eyes level was impressive and familiar. Boundaries flowed and the deficit dropped when the two saviours arrived. Gilchrist was the star attraction but Katich was a capable deputy as he sprinkled moments of brilliance in his return from five Tests away watching his replacement Darren Lehmann.
Katich's century came from 173 balls and depended on positive play despite miscues and bouts of frustration. A hard day of graft seemed the best option for batsmen, but the logic didn't convince Katich and he eyed 20 fours and one six. His pulling on a slowing wicket was powerful and regular; his off-side driving was careful, patient and often piercing.
After being dropped twice in the past year to mean decisions, he wanted to cement the No. 6 spot and can stop looking at challengers for the rest of the series. Katich's timing was crucial and Gilchrist gave him his moment to celebrate before it was interrupted by a spectator who was crash-tackled by security. At that point Fleming felt equally wounded.
Ricky Ponting and Clarke had been deceived in the day's very early stages and 36 runs were eked in the first hour. It is rare for Australia to bat ugly, but in the first session runs were difficult against penetrative swing bowling from Chris Martin and James Franklin.
Before play many commentators - mostly Australian ones - generously decided the match was evenly poised. It was a brave verdict considering they started 292 runs behind with seven wickets in hand on an uncomfortable pitch for free-flowing strokes. Fleming's band came out ready to starve and strike. Martin bowled a wonderful over to force a jumpy edge from Ponting and Clarke made a minor misjudgement to Franklin's left-arm angle.
When Gilchrist returned from lunch the mood of everybody changed. The bowlers worried and their radars wobbled, Fleming waited for too long for something positive to happen, and Katich settled in alongside his partner. The pair cruelly and efficiently combined to re-float Australia in a contest that became delightfully and unbelievably even.
Ponting c McCullum b Martin 46 (147 for 4)
Ball moved away off the pitch to surprise Ponting and he pushed an edge to McCullum, who caught smartly low and to his right.
Clarke c McCullum b Franklin 8 (160 for 5)
Flirted slightly away from his body to an angled ball, forcing McCullum to come forward for an even better - and lower - catch.
Gillespie c Cumming b Vettori 12 (201 for 6)
Propped front leg defensively, but straight ball hit high on the bat and skirted to short leg.
Gilchrist c O'Brien b Vettori 121 (413 for 7)
Tried to launch a six over mid-on but fell a couple of metres short and O'Brien took the running catch.
Katich c Vincent b Astle 118 (418 for 8)
Struggling for runs after Gilchrist's departure, he aimed a tired, wide drive to an outswinger and found cover.
Warne c Astle b Vettori 118 (426 for 9)
Slashed hard to a faster ball and Astle took the pace off with his first touch, grabbing it with his second.
McGrath lbw Vettori 0 (432)
Swept across the line to give Vettori his fifth wicket.
Peter English is Australasian editor of Cricinfo.