Bird pleased to make impression after nervous return
Jackson Bird completed the first five-wicket haul of his Test career on the fourth day at Hagley Oval, but he thought the opportunity might never come. Before this series, Bird had last played Test cricket on the 2013 Ashes tour of England and since then had been hampered by injuries, most notably to his back but also affecting his neck and shoulder.
It looked as though Bird's career tally of Tests might never move beyond three, including the one in which he was Man of the Match against Sri Lanka in Sydney in 2012-13. However, a combination of injuries to other fast men, including Mitchell Starc, and a summer of steady form for Tasmania brought Bird back into the mix for this tour, and he has repaid the selectors for their faith.
Bird struggled on the first day in Wellington, where he leaked 0 for 52 from his ten overs, but he improved as that match wore on, and picked up one wicket in the second innings and two in the first innings in Christchurch. But it was his 5 for 59 in New Zealand's second innings - all taken on day four - that kept Australia in the match by limiting their target to 201.
"It was nice to take a few wickets when the team needed it after lunch but I feel like I've been pretty inconsistent with how I've bowled in this series, which is disappointing," Bird said. "It was nice to get a few wickets today and to put us in a pretty good position to win the game tomorrow and win the series.
"I was a little bit nervous on day one [in Wellington]. I don't usually get nervous for cricket so that was something different and nerves probably did get to me on day one. It was a green wicket and we were expected to knock them over quite early, so there was a little bit more expectation on the bowling group and I would probably put it down to being a little bit nervous."
If Bird was nervous it was understandable. At 29, and with a tour of Sri Lanka the next item on Australia's Test agenda - where spin will be more of a weapon and Starc and others could be fit and ready for selection - he had to make something of this tour. Bird said after his time away from the game with injury, he thought his Test career might have been over.
"I had probably a year out of the game where my back was pretty sore the whole time so I thought, there's a lot of good bowlers in Australia that probably overtook me," he said. "I've been lucky I guess with a few guys getting injured to make this tour, but I never really lost confidence in my own ability and being able to play well at Test cricket.
"But I lost confidence in my body and I didn't know when I was going to get injured again, so sometimes it's pretty hard going into a game when you are fit and in the back of your mind you think your body could go any minute. So I think trying to get over that and get that out of my head, which I managed to do after playing a few games back to back, that was probably the hardest thing."
New Zealand allrounder Corey Anderson, who made 40 as part of a fighting 102-run partnership, was the first of Bird's victims when he played on shortly before the new ball was taken. Anderson said Bird had gained just enough movement to be difficult on a Hagley Oval surface that wasn't offering much.
"It was one of those things, that sometimes when you do too much with it, you don't get the wickets," Anderson said. "I thought he bowled really well. He just nibbled it enough to cause a bit of havoc and then obviously the new ball as well. He bowled well, and well done for a five-for."
Anderson and Williamson kept New Zealand in the match by batting through the first session unscathed, and some lower-order fight from Matt Henry (66) and BJ Watling (46) ensured a target of 201 for the Australians.
"We could've rolled over and scratched our bellies, but we showed a bit of fight," Anderson said. "Me and Kane dug in until lunch and then Henners and BJ batted outstandingly to put a reasonable total on the board, something to at least fight against. It would have been nice to get a couple more poles at the end of the day but we've just got to come back fighting in the morning."
New Zealand's bowlers struggled to find much swing or seam movement late on the fourth day and Neil Wagner's sustained short-pitched attack - he was no-balled once for a third bouncer in an over - with a heavy leg-side field looked like their major plan. However, if there is some cloud cover on the fifth morning New Zealand will hope to exploit it, with Australia still needing a further 131.
"Any total that you're going to have to chase in the fourth innings is always going to be a tough total, regardless of what it is," Anderson said. "It would have been nice to get a couple more poles this evening, but it's not to be. Hopefully in the morning we can go bang, bang and then potentially run through them."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale