New Zealand keep a check on proceedings
New Zealand chipped away with wickets, including the prize one of Brian Lara for 1, to keep a check on West Indies' progress on the third day at Wellington. Chris Gayle stood tall with a composed 68 in a brave attempt to overcome the odds and build a lead, but Daniel Vettori ended his resistance on the stroke of tea to cap another good session for the home side. Bad light forced the batsmen to go off two hours before the scheduled time, and West Indies found themselves eager to do so.
Chris Martin, the best bowler on view, snapped a 54-run opening partnership by forcing Daren Ganga to drive loosely and edge to the `keeper before lunch. Resuming after the interval, James Franklin ended Runako Morton's painful innings - he was struck a blow on the thigh and needed 44 deliveries for his 7 - by getting him to poke at one angling across the body and give Stephen Fleming his fifth catch of the match.
And then, moments after Gayle brought up his fifty with a firm punch in the gap between mid-off and covers, a moment of indiscretion from the man who should have emulated his younger partner turned the tide further. Lara, in probably his last match at the venue of his only Test hundred against New Zealand, flung himself at a Nathan Astle half-volley and spooned the simplest of catches to Hamish Marshall at point. Where Gayle had played watchfully and put a value on his wicket, Test cricket's highest run-scorer threw it all away and made a negotiable situation a precarious one. New Zealand had applied the chokehold on the biggest threat.
Where Lara and the others failed, however, Gayle was a rock. He showed an improved temperament in this innings, understanding the need to see off the new ball and play himself in. His defense was solid and his running between the wickets a marked step up from the first day. There were no wafts outside the off, shimmies down the track or impetuous hooks; this was a determined Gayle. Playing himself in for the long haul, Gayle showed that application and temperament could do a batsman well on this surface.
He watchfully played the swinging deliveries but cashed in on anything short. Kyle Mills dropped it in length and was crashed for three consecutive fours off the back foot in his first over. He controlled himself against the bowling, preferring to ease the ball into the gaps rather than biff it over the infield. His was an untimely dismissal, caught on the pads trying to sweep Vettori when he should have been playing forward and West Indies now need a big partnership.
New Zealand's bowling was purposeful, with Martin achieving good pace and lift, Franklin a hint of the swing that made him so dangerous on the first day, and Astle suffocating. Martin was quick and accurate, and each time he was brought on he succeeded in driving Gayle into a shell. Fleming's decision to bowl Astle ahead of Vettori was rewarded with Lara's wicket from 12 overs of nagging wicket-to-wicket bowling. Martin and Astle were responsible for much of the pressure as they kept up a good line and length to Gayle and Morton, who preferred to shoulder arms more than defend.
The West Indies bowling had been good as well, as Fidel Edwards bagged a worthy 5 for 65 to dismiss New Zealand early on the third morning and restrict them to a 180-run lead. Astle failed to add to his overnight score of 65, playing forward to Daren Powell (4 for 83) and getting a thick edge to Denesh Ramdin in the first over after rain delayed the start of play. Edwards then bowled full and fast to wrap up the tail and finish with the first bowling performance of note for the West Indies this series. Sadly, the batsmen could not take a cue from Edwards' inspired spell.
How they were out
Nathan Astle c Ramdin b Powell 65 (335 for 8)
Played loosely on off, well held behind the stumps
Kyle Mills c Ramdin b Edwards 10 (372 for 9)
Went for a pull, thick edge to the 'keeper
Chris Martin b Edwards 0 (372 for 10)
Reverse swing crashed into leg stump
Daren Ganga c McCullum b Martin 23 (54 for 1)
Nicked a wide delivery to the `keeper
Runako Morton c Fleming b Franklin 7 (75 for 2)
Angled across the stumps, poked at and edged to slip
Brian Lara c Marshall b Astle1 (84 for 3)
Spooned a half-volley to point
Chris Gayle lbw b Vettori 68 (113 for 4)
Arm ball, tried to sweep, hit in line with off
Jamie Alter is editorial assistant of Cricinfo