x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

McCullum keeps Kiwi hopes alive

A fifth Test century and a sixth wicket partnership of 126 keeps the team with a chance to draw the Test with four wickets in hand on the final day.

Brendon McCullum is poised for a fifth Test century heading into the final day of New Zealand's first Test against Australia in Wellington after he and captain Daniel Vettori inspired a much-needed fightback. When Australia declared at 459 for five midway through the second day, then skittled the hosts for 157 and had them 187 for five in the follow-on at the end of day three, New Zealand looked out for the count. But a record sixth-wicket partnership of 126 between Vettori and McCullum, then an unbroken stand of 60 between McCullum and Daryl Tuffey, showed New Zealand had found some backbone and helped them to 369 for six, a lead of 67 runs, when play was called off for bad light just before 6pm on a weather-affected fourth day. McCullum's unbeaten 94 included 11 boundaries and a six, which flew out of the ground in the severely windy conditions, while Tuffey's 59-ball 23 not out included two fours and a six. The teams were buffeted throughout the day by strong winds that gusted over 120 kilometres an hour at the Basin Reserve.

The weather played havoc with the technology required by the umpire decision review system, as the cameras used to track the ball and rule on no balls were unable to provide accurate data in the windswept conditions. McCullum was the beneficiary early in the middle session when he did not offer a shot to a Nathan Hauritz ball that turned sharply and rapped him on the pads. Ricky Ponting called for the review but without accurate information, Asad Rauf's original not out decision could not be overturned. It prompted a discussion between a clearly unhappy Australian skipper and the umpires before Vettori, who had by then survived a caught and bowled chance off Mitchell Johnson, joined the debate, and it was ruled Australia would not lose the referral under the circumstances. McCullum had only just brought up his fifty in the over prior to his reprieve, his 52 taking 110 balls, but had also had two other lucky escapes when Ponting grassed a sharp catch at second slip when he was on 38. Brad Haddin let another chance go begging when McCullum had advanced his score to 48.

When bad light forced an early tea, the wicketkeeper was only eight runs short of his ton but had seen the departure of Vettori for a 119-ball 77 after the skipper played a Hauritz ball onto his stumps. By then the pair had broken the previous best sixth-wicket stand against Australia of 110 by Stephen Fleming and Chris Cairns, set in Wellington in the 1999-2000 season, and had edged the New Zealanders into a slender lead. McCullum and Tuffey continued the rearguard action to frustrate the Australians further up to tea. The final session was delayed by bad weather and only two overs were possible before the players left the field again - this time for good. * PA Sport