Australia face tricky chase to knock off Kiwis

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Could Phil Hughes be Australia's next key batsmen? (AP Photo/Chris Crerar)

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Australia is well placed to win the second Test at Bellerive against New Zealand today, but must undertake a tricky run chase this morning to defeat the Kiwis and secure the series 2-0.

The Black Caps were in a strong position heading into day three but missed a golden opportunity to set the Australian side a more challenging total when its middle and lower order failed to fire yesterday.

New Zealand lost its last six wickets for just 55 runs and were all out for 226, leaving the Australians to chase a fourth innings target of 241 runs for victory.

The Australian bowlers shared the second innings wickets, with James Pattinson’s star continuing to rise in just his second Test match, taking 3-54 and finishing with match figures of 8 for 105.

Peter Siddle bowled tightly for large parts of the Black Caps second innings before some lusty hitting from the New Zealand lower order took the shine off his figures, finishing with 3-66. Nathan Lyon cleaned up the tail, claiming 3-25.

The best Australian bowling line-up is starting to become clearer, with Pattinson, Siddle and Patrick Cummins (when fit) the best three quicks in the land, while Lyon has cemented his spot as the side’s spinner. Shane Watson also lends some experience to the bowling line-up when his body is up to it.

With the Australian bowlers having done their part, it then fell to openers Phil Hughes and David Warner to get the locals off to a good start.

Hughes was very lucky to survive the early part of his innings after gloving a ball down the leg side to keeper Reece Young off the bowling of Chris Martin before he had got off the mark. The Black Caps appealed but Hughes was given not out, and New Zealand captain Ross Taylor chose not to refer the decision.

The fact that the replay clearly showed that Hughes had gloved the ball and yet remained at the crease suggests that the referral system still requires some tweaking. The use of technology in sport is designed to achieve a greater accuracy of decisions, but in this instance it has failed.

It is true that Taylor declined to have the decision reviewed, but surely this misses the point. If the technology exists which clearly demonstrates that a batsman should have been given out, there should be a mechanism whereby it is used and the correct decision is made every time. Otherwise, leave decisions entirely in the hands of the umpires and get rid of the technology altogether.

Hughes appeared nervous at the batting crease from the start of his innings, aware he cannot sustain his run of poor form on home soil for much longer, and finished on 20not out when rain stopped play. While Hughes was circumspect in his batting, his opening partner Warner took the opposite approach.

Warner punched the ball through the New Zealand in-field at will, finishing the day’s play on 47 off 50 balls. He looked in excellent form, and will be out to secure a century on a fourth-day wicket which looks to be flattening out.

It was hard to escape the fact that the two New South Welshmen are in a bat-off to retain their spot for the Boxing Day Test, with Shane Watson likely to resume his place at the top of the order when he returns from injury. Warner looked far more comfortable at the crease than Hughes, whose name was once more trending on Twitter after he survived the gloved chance down the leg side.

Questions remain over Australia’s batting line-up, and a strong showing is required today in chasing the remaining 169 runs for victory. Australia’s first innings total of 136 was its lowest innings total against New Zealand on home soil, and was the fifth instance of the Australian team being bowled out for under 150 since July 2010. Of those five, three were sub-100 innings totals.

The Test is Australia’s to lose, and they deserve to be strong favourites heading into day four, but a few early wickets this morning will send tremors through the batting line-up. While the best bowling quartet is becoming clearer, there remain a number of batsmen with question marks over their position in the side. A solid showing from the top order today will go some way to addressing that.

You can follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelFilosi

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