Third Test

New Zealand v Australia

Andrew Ramsey

At Auckland, March 26, 27, 28, 29, 2005. Australia won by nine wickets. Toss: New Zealand. Test debut: J. A. H. Marshall.

Although they drafted in a batsman for his Test debut, there was no new face in the New Zealand side: in came James Marshall, near enough indistinguishable from his brother, Hamish. The Marshalls were Test cricket's second set of twins after the Waugh brothers, but the first identical pair. The move allowed the selectors to dispense with struggling middle-order batsman Craig McMillan and grant Fleming's wish to drop down to his preferred role of No. 4. It also had the potential advantage of confusing the Australians; even the twins' father said he had problems telling them apart dressed in whites, so it was understandable when, before the Test, Ponting admitted he had no idea how his bowlers would distinguish one from the other should the Marshalls bat together. That moment arrived inside the first 30 minutes after Gillespie removed Cumming.

In fact, the brothers did their bit to aid the Australians by just one of them (James) using a forearm guard, and, on a funereal first day, twin-spotting was about as exciting as it got. Rather less diverting was the sight of McGrath sending down maiden after maiden. At stumps his figures were 24-17-20-1 as New Zealand, preferring damage control to control of the match, crawled to 199 for five.

The tempo scarcely improved next morning as the Australians restricted their prey to 292, compiled at the glacial pace of around two and a half an over. As if to work off his frustration at New Zealand's tactics, Ponting arrived at the crease amid a blaze of strokes, putting paid to suggestions that the pitch was the cause of the dawdling. He blasted a century at almost a run a ball, including four imperious sixes, and by lunch on day three the Australians were ahead. It had taken them 97 overs - Ponting aside, the Australians had not rushed - but the difference was that the cyclonic Gilchrist had yet to bat.

And when he did, he duly delivered a decisive unbeaten 60 off 62 balls, lifting his series return to a stunning 343 from three innings. Those runs came from 334 balls and contained 12 sixes and 44 fours. Australia's lead of 91 was hardly emphatic, though it quickly seemed so once the New Zealanders lost both openers to McGrath in failing light late on the third day. It left them floundering at 11 for two - and fuming.

Next morning, starting with a remarkable, freakish one-handed reaction catch by Gillespie to end Fleming's wretched series, two more wickets fell quickly. Astle and Vincent fought back through a partnership worth 70, but even so the lead was just two when New Zealand lost their sixth wicket. Vettori, who in this match could lay claim to be their most accomplished batsman rather than their best bowler, hit out and, bolstered by some spirited support from the tailenders, extended the advantage to a useful 163. With a minimum of 33 overs remaining on the fourth day and showers forecast for the fifth, it was hardly surprising the New Zealanders opted for stalling tactics.

Unable to hide his displeasure at Fleming's methods, Ponting carried Australia to victory, hitting 86 from 84 balls in what, but for the glare of the rugby stadium's floodlights, would have been almost complete darkness. He later called for changes to ICC regulations governing floodlights in Tests, arguing their use should be at the discretion of the batting team's captain rather than officials. He also attacked Fleming's go-slow strategy, though it was hard to imagine any captain acting differently.

Fleming, more philosophical than apologetic, had little hesitation in identifying the principal reason his team had been comprehensively outplayed after the first day or two of the series: "Once again it's Adam Gilchrist's impact. If you take away his 60 runs in this Test then we had knocked them over cheaply. But once again we walked off with momentum against us, instead. These guys are the kings of building momentum, and hanging on to momentum."

Man of the Match: R. T. Ponting.

Man of the Series: A. C. Gilchrist.

© John Wisden & co.