NZ v Australia, 3rd Test, Auckland, 2nd day March 27, 2005

Ponting's punishment

Ricky Ponting crushed New Zealand's hopes of taking control in this Test © Getty Images

New Zealand's hopes of tying the Test series rested on a counter attack from the lower-order batsmen on the second morning. Had that occurred, yesterday's snail-pace scoring by the top order may have been overshadowed but New Zealand's tail, so often a key strength, was again easy pickings for the Australians.

On a fine Auckland day Nathan Astle and Brendon McCullum resumed at 199 for 5 and of those to come, only Chris Martin is without claims with the willow in hand. However the moment was again missed through a combination of indecisiveness, bad shots and poor umpiring.

The final five wickets yielded just 93 runs, a figure inflated by Daniel Vettori's unbeaten 41. While Vettori rockets towards the coveted No. 1 position for the next round of New Zealand player contracts, McCullum, especially, is treading water in defiance of his real ability.

Shots of authority such as McCullum's brilliant pull for four off Glenn McGrath were mixed with plays-and-misses and no-mans-land prods against a consistent rather than relentless Australian opening burst.

Astle's soft dismissal to a ball in no danger of hitting his stumps belied his Test-veteran status and while McCullum needed to play at McGrath, he did so with bat away from pad. If Vettori, at the non-strikers end, had been annoyed to see McCullum depart, he would have been justifiably irate when James Franklin was genuinely unlucky to be given out.

So with two bad shots and one regrettable decision it was another session to Australia. One session soon became two as Ricky Ponting dismantled the New Zealand attack.

When Stephen Fleming opted for Astle's medium pace after nine overs, Matthew Hayden never let him settle. On the two occasions Chris Martin erred in length in his opening spell, Ponting dispatched him over the fence and the scene for the afternoon was set.

On the first day New Zealand had totalled 142 runs at tea: today Australia rattled on 143 between lunch and tea. When Ponting went past 100 in a scarcely believable 104 balls those that blinked would have been forgiven for thinking they'd missed something, such was the skill of Ponting's accumulation.

There were the big shots - Franklin and Vettori were both sent over the ropes - but, just as much as Australia's bowling was a routine effort, Ponting's breathtaking century was a blinder. Perhaps it was not as destructive as the mayhem fans have come to associate with Adam Gilchrist, but it certainly appeared as though Ponting was on a mission to bat New Zealand out of the game. That is something he may well have achieved.