The third day was a hard one for all the New Zealand bowlers but their ageing spearhead Chris Martin has reason to feel concerned. The youthful Tim Southee picked up two early wickets and the newcomer Brent Arnel grabbed a couple later in the day but Martin earned none while leaking runs at a greater rate than any of his colleagues.
While fast men are entitled to occasional days of difficulty, the worry for New Zealand is that such days are becoming too frequent for Martin. In this series Australia's batsmen have found his lines predictable and he has taken 1 for 260. Notably, he was the last of the specialist bowlers to whom Daniel Vettori handed the ball on the third day.
"It was tough for our seamers," Brendon McCullum said. "We don't have that out-and-out pace of some attacks and we need more assistance from the wicket. They did a reasonable job. Tim Southee continued to bowl well; Brent Arnel came back with that second new ball and did a really good job.
"It was disappointing for Chris, he probably wasn't at his best but they attacked him and put him under pressure. For a guy who's played 50-odd Test matches I'm sure he'll come back and respond next time."
The problem for Martin is ensuring there is a next time. At 35, a man who offers nothing with the bat or in the field has no option but to take wickets, and an average of 41.14 over the past year is not an adequate return. New Zealand's next Test tour is not for six months, when they are scheduled to visit Bangladesh, and by then injuries should not be a barrier to choosing Daryl Tuffey, Kyle Mills or Andy McKay.
Arnel has shown promise in his first series, nibbling the ball around in both games, and he was nominated by the centurion Simon Katich as the pick of the bowlers on the third day. Southee might not have played this Test but for Tuffey's injury, yet highlighted his potential with four first-innings wickets and a couple more on the third morning when he bowled to an inventive plan from Vettori.
Shane Watson was the first to fall for a well-laid trap, when he pulled Southee straight to the man at deep midwicket. But the masterstroke was the plot to remove Ricky Ponting, who walked out to see the leg-side field stacked, was targeted on his pads and duly clipped the ball straight to short-leg, where BJ Watling held an excellent catch.
"It wasn't something we worked on overnight, just the fact Tim was bowling really well and getting a bit of tail," McCullum said of the Ponting plan. "We discussed it and it seemed like the right thing to do. It probably wasn't how we thought we would get him out, but you've got to be a bit proactive and try to get in front of the game and hope that things happen."
Unfortunately for the hosts, not much happened for them after the Ponting dismissal as Katich and Michael Hussey built a 155-run partnership and the lead swelled to 300 with six wickets in hand by the close of play. However, McCullum said New Zealand had not given up hope of rattling through the Australian lower order to take a declaration out of Ponting's hands.
"We're two wickets away from bowling at their bowlers and we saw in the first innings there's no reason why we can't run through that bottom order," he said. "For us the key is to get those first two wickets, and if we do that relatively early then I see no reason why we couldn't bowl them out and still have the game in our control."
For that to happen, they will need contributions from their best bowlers. There is still room for Martin to stand up and show the skills that have earned him 181 Test wickets, but his time to lift is rapidly running out.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo