NZ slip late on day of hard climbing
Stephen Fleming worked his way back into form with a gutsy half-century but New Zealand were battling to keep pace with Australia on an absorbing first day. Glenn McGrath's clash with Fleming was the highlight as both men fought to set up the match that will settle the series, but New Zealand slipped with three wickets in the final session and crawled to 199 for 5.
Until then New Zealand were travelling slowly but smoothly on a low and slowing pitch and gluggy outfield. Fleming and Hamish Marshall worked hard against a frugal bowling attack and when both departed in three overs Australia clawed their way back. In the shadows of stumps Jason Gillespie added his second delicious off-cutter to remove his second batsman of the day to shouldered arms. The first was Craig Cumming in the eighth over; the next was Lou Vincent in the 88th.
It was a day of rock climbing. New Zealand would scramble a couple of metres and then be pulled back before regaining their balance and moving forward again. Every run was sweated over and carefully planned. The biggest slip came in the final 15 overs and Australia will strive for more dragging down on the second day.
The innings from Fleming was brave and vital after the losses of Cumming and James Marshall, the debutant, for 29. Knocked over lbw three times by McGrath in the past three innings, Fleming was unable to challenge him but he survived every threat. There were many. McGrath delivered 24 overs for 17 maidens, 20 runs and the wicket of James Marshall. He was incredible and muttered furiously when his last ball of the day was edged for four.
Dropped from opener to No. 4, Fleming's form has been in the national interest and there were regular cheers - mock and real - throughout his innings. Fleming had asked Australia to bowl on a wicket offering some early assistance and arrived with McGrath ready to deliver three balls to finish his over. The first was left and the second caused a defensive prod in the middle of the bat, bringing loud applause from the crowd. It also cracked a smile from his usually straight face. Ball three was a dug-out yorker. Things got slightly easier, especially when McGrath was curiously not called on for almost an hour after lunch.
Fleming settled into the second session with an off-drive for four off Warne and quickly lofted him over mid-on, repeating the first shot in a sign he was returning to normal touch. The best swing came when he planted Warne into the midwicket grandstand, but everything changed when McGrath re-appeared.
On 32 for about half an hour, Fleming blocked, played and missed and was hit once on the pad when the ball pitched outside leg. The narrow escapes and inside edges that could have caused his departure were avoided. A single to McGrath was congratulated with a roar close to the one for Marshall's fifty. The battle re-started after tea and still there was no defining moment.
Fleming brought up his half-century from 146 balls and the runs to deliveries ratio reflected his graft. Once he passed fifty he lapsed with a poorly taken single and was millimetres short of being run out by Shane Warne, then he disappeared when squeezed for room by Michael Kasprowicz.
The 126-run stand with Hamish Marshall held high value and frustrated Ricky Ponting, who used himself in two short spells before lunch and tea. Hamish Marshall played patiently to continue the strong work completed with his brother. His half-century was 11 balls faster than Fleming's and included flourishes through midwicket, straight and point, as well as a solid defensive technique. Marshall's 76 included nine fours and was another impressive display until it ended in a strange manner. The appeals for a close-in catch off Warne were hushed and despite an edge Jeremy Lloyds was convinced to raise his finger for an lbw.
The Marshall brothers combined for a 38-run partnership that was enjoyable for its attractive, pushing strokeplay and the game of trying to pick which identical twin was which. The only giveaway was an armguard on James and wristbands on Hamish. From side-on it was virtually impossible.
Entering the match with a first-class average of 28, James Marshall bettered the mark by one and started his Test tally with a glide through the cordon for a boundary. The brothers came together at 15 and suffered few troubles until McGrath balanced the first session by pressuring James Marshall into a push to Matthew Hayden at gully. The scales tipped often, but went Australia's way late on a gripping, low-scoring day.
Cumming lbw Gillespie 5 (15 for 1)
Padded up to a ball that cut back wickedly and hit his back leg.
J Marshall c Hayden b McGrath 29 (53 for 2)
Lazy back-foot push away from his body to gully after patient debut innings.
H Marshall c Ponting b Warne 76 (179 for 3)
Hit bat and bad and ballooned to silly point for relatively quiet appeal - Jeremy Lloyds wanted to give it leg before.
Fleming b Kasprowicz 65 (183 for 4)
Cramped for room, played on to leg stump.
Vincent b Vincent 2 (194 for 5)
Offered no shot to the second ball in a row that came back. The first went for four byes, this one tipped off bail.