Solid McCullum stands firm in windy Wellington
New Zealand 157 & 369 for 6 (McCullum 94*, McIntosh 83, Vettori 77) lead Australia 459 for 5 dec by 67 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Brendon McCullum changed his tactics to produce a superb team innings that allowed New Zealand to take their battle with Australia into a fifth day. Standing up to a fierce wind gusting up to 120kph, McCullum smothered his attack-first mentality and overcame a distracted Australian side to finish unbeaten on 94.
Crucially, McCullum built on the work of Daniel Vettori, who produced a committed 77, and took the hosts further ahead during their follow-on. By stumps on a day curtailed by rain, light and regular interruptions caused by the gale, their advantage stood at 67. It is not much, but some more wet weather is predicted on the final morning, giving them a chance of saving the game.
The Australians started the day with a lead of 115 and needed five wickets but they managed only one. Mostly they wished they were inside, safe from the powerful gusts and resting after three consecutive days in the field. McCullum and Vettori kept them outside during a partnership of 126 - it was a sixth-wicket record for New Zealand against Australia - and both raised their highest scores in Trans-Tasman Tests.
McCullum, who is happiest when he's slashing boundaries, focussed successfully on batting for a long time and usually avoided the big shots that could have led to his departure. For much of the time it was an uncharacteristically gritty display, but he allowed himself some attractive flourishes.
The best shot came when he pulled Mitchell Johnson out of the ground behind square and forced a lengthy search for the ball. Unfortunately for the Australians they found it, as McCullum liked hitting it.
He cut Nathan Hauritz when he dropped short and eased the fast men through cover or point when they over-pitched. After lunch he thumped a drive to point that was prevented from reaching the rope by the gale, but he picked up 11 boundaries and the six during an impressive 178-ball performance.
McCullum's half-century came up with overthrows after he picked up a quick single, and he was the most comfortable man on the ground throughout the day. Vettori was almost immoveable as he showed he could have a long-term future at No. 6. After scoring 46 in the first innings Vettori, who has been promoted two spots in the order this season, delivered in another crucial situation.
Rain delayed the start and the hosts resumed their second innings on 187 for 5, knowing they didn't have much batting power after Vettori and McCullum. The pair was in control for most of the stand and the Australians were worn down by the interruptions and the unfamiliar weather.
The wind was so severe that the cameras for Hot Spot were taken down and the equipment for the projection tracking stopped working, which caused a problem when McCullum survived an lbw appeal on 52 from Hauritz. McCullum didn't play a shot to an offspinner and was hit a long way outside off stump, with Asad Rauf ruling it not out.
Australia called for a referral but some of the reference tools were unavailable and the original decision stayed, which seemed to be the right one. Ricky Ponting had a lengthy discussion with the umpires and the upshot was they didn't lose their challenge.
The Australians weren't at their best throughout, but their worst period was after lunch when Johnson dropped a caught-and-bowled opportunity above his head from Vettori on 60. Brad Haddin also failed to stump McCullum before his half-century when the batsman missed a ball from Hauritz and his back leg came out of the crease.
Just when everything seemed lined up for a Vettori century, he swept at Hauritz well outside leg stump and managed to play on. He opened the day with a smart drive in the first over and collected eight fours in all, half of which came behind point. A boundary through cover off Ryan Harris brought up a much-needed half-century and Vettori also employed a range of cunning deflections during his 119-ball stay.
Once Vettori exited, McCullum gained assistance from Daryl Tuffey, who was unbeaten on 23 when stumps were eventually called. Bad light and drizzle alternated to cause the disruptions in the afternoon and only 52 overs were delivered for the day.
The persistent gusts forced the players to hold on to their caps and sent a helmet sitting behind Haddin all the way to the boundary. Bails weighed down by lead blew off and the cameramen standing in the stands had ropes to grab when they wobbled. Before play the wind was so strong it ripped the covers from the hands of the groundsmen and moved the light roller.
The conditions helped the bowlers at the Vance Stand End, but were a severe hindrance for the men at the other one. Hauritz had to deliver into the wind most of the time and had satisfying figures of 3 for 119 from 49 overs. Doug Bollinger was unable to add an eighth wicket for the game while Johnson had brief moments of encouragement without success. Depending on what happens tomorrow, the Australians may look back at their mixed moods and conclude it was a day of missed opportunities.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo