Tea Australia 5 for 431 (Head 98*, Paine 77*) v New Zealand
Travis Head was within touching distance of his second Test hundred and Tim Paine was approaching his first, more than nine years after his debut, the pair adding an unbroken 147 for the sixth wicket as Australia piled up a handsome first-innings total on the second day at the MCG.
Head, who had started the day on 25, did not find the going easy in the first hour – as 27 runs came in 14 overs – but was quick onto any width. Though he later upper-cut Neil Wagner to third man he never really dominated the bowlers and as he neared his century was kept in the 90s for nearly 45 minutes up to tea, playing out a maiden from Trent Boult to sit two runs short.
In the lead-up to this Test, as Australia contemplated five bowlers, it was Head’s position that was most vulnerable but this innings should have changed that should the selection debate come up again.
The only blip in Australia’s day was when Steven Smith was bounced out for the third time in the series by Wagner. Smith had only managed to add eight off 50 runs to his overnight score of 77 – that included driving the opening delivery of the day for three – and could not make it a fifth MCG hundred after battling through the opening day.
Up to the point of Smith’s dismissal the game had not really moved far – although Australia had consolidated against some honest bowling – but the tempo changed after that. For a brief period New Zealand sensed a chance to get back into the match, but that quickly vanished as Paine played a superbly-judged positive hand either side of lunch.
The Australia captain pulled and drove with confidence against some weary-looking bowling, one of his best strokes – a pull that bisected deep square and long leg off Tim Southee – taking him to his half-century off 72 balls. It was the perfect innings to ensure Australia kept moving forward having done the hard yards to establish control over the first four sessions.
Smith and Head had played carefully through the first hour as New Zealand toiled accurately but without huge threat. However, in the first over after drinks when Wagner produced a brute of a short delivery which Smith fended into the gully where Henry Nicholls took an excellent, finger-tip catch above his head.
The spell in which Wagner removed Smith was extended to nine overs as New Zealand strained to stay in the game and the majority of the work was done by the fourth quicks with the efforts starting to show. Mitchell Santner continued to be lightly used by Kane Williamson – it was not until Australia had passed 400 that he had a spell longer than three overs – and straight after lunch Tom Blundell, who is a wicketkeeper by trade, sent down three overs of offspin. New Zealand will have to look hard at their spin bowling before the final Test.