Aussies just unstoppable

The victorious Australian team.-AFP

GOING into the third Test, Australia — more than New Zealand — was mortally scared of the weather, which prevented it from sealing the second Test and go 2-0 up at Wellington.

GOING into the third Test, Australia — more than New Zealand — was mortally scared of the weather, which prevented it from sealing the second Test and go 2-0 up at Wellington. Again, when fog and rain kept interrupting the schedule in the third and final Test at Auckland, Australia decided enough was enough. With predictions of rain looming large on the fourth day and having to get 164 for a win, Australia hurried things up with Justin Langer (59 not out) and Ricky Ponting (86 not out) attacking ruthlessly to script a nine-wicket victory and wrap up the Test series.

The wounds inflicted by Australia will be difficult to heal, and New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming knows that pretty well. The morale and the spirit of the New Zealand team will be severely tested. Explained Fleming on the dismal performance of his team: "It's certainly character building. It's tough, you get beaten up and criticised and quite rightly so. The public expect more, but probably what they don't understand is the pressure this Australian side is putting on the opposition. It's not just us — they've mauled Pakistan and India. They've turned over the best the world has to offer. We've just got to go back to the drawing board and come up with something that gets us closer."

Ricky Ponting... an attacking century in the first innings and an unbeaten 86 in the second.-AP

Surely, this Australian team is raising the bar each and every time it beats an opposition. Only the forces of nature, it seems, are capable of denying it a win.

Opting to a bat first on a docile pitch, New Zealand huffed and puffed, and with Glenn McGrath bowling to an (predictable) impeccable line and length, was restricted to 199 for five at close on the first day. Openers C. Cumming and J. Marshall returned to the pavilion cheaply. Marshall's twin brother H. Marshall emerged the top-scorer with 76. Jason Gillespie, Michael Kasprowicz and Shane Warne handcuffed the Kiwi batsmen with accurate bowling. Vettori's unbeaten 41, to some extent, enabled New Zealand finish at a respectable 292.

The Australian captain Ricky Ponting entered the crease with his team at eight for one after losing opener Langer. An aggressive player at normal times, the situation, too, demanded he be at his aggressive best. He belted the Kiwi bowlers to record his 22nd Test century off just 104 balls. His third-wicket partnership of 103 in 91 minutes with Damien Martyn enabled the visitor take control of the match. Ponting dashed to his half-century from 58 balls and his 105 contained 13 boundaries and four sixers. The visitor finished the second day at 219 for four. `Pile quick runs and put pressure on the opposition' was the strategy of Australia. Quick runs and Adam Gilchrist go together. For the wicketkeeper-bastman, aggression is second nature. Gilchrist, adjudged the Man of the Series, smashed an unbeaten half-century to help Australia post a first innings score of 383 and grab a 91-run lead. However, not much support was forthcoming from Michael Clarke (22) and Simon Katich (35). The only bright spot for the Kiwis was the six-wicket haul by left-arm medium pace bowler James Franklin.

Paul Wiseman has no clue to this one from Glenn McGrath. The Australian paceman is now just one short of the 500-wicket mark.-HAMISH BLAIR/GETTY IMAGES

Resuming at 11 for two on the penultimate day, New Zealand, in its second innings, crumbled to the onslaught from McGrath and Warne and was bowled out for 254. Astle top-scored with 69. At one stage, Australia seemed destined for an innings victory when New Zealand was teetering at 23 for four. But late-innings fightbacks from Astle and Vettori (65) ensured that, at the very least, Australia would have to bat again to ensure its sixth consecutive series win. McGrath and Warne claimed four wickets each.

Requiring 164 for a win, Langer and Matthew Hayden opened the innings. Once Hayden was run-out by Vettori's direct hit from mid-off, in came the skipper. Ponting blasted his way to an unbeaten 86 off 84 balls. As much as Fleming tried to slow the game, hoping the inclement weather would interrupt, Ponting stepped up the pace walloping runs. Langer chipped in with 59 from 76 balls. The slow tactics of the Kiwis forced Ponting to say, "There was only one team out there trying to win the game."

Fleming looked deeply dejected. "I am disappointed that we couldn't put up more of a fight. There are plenty of reasons and excuses but the criticisms got to be taken on the chin — we were just well and truly outplayed by a great group of players in a once in a lifetime team."

The only bright spot for the Kiwis was the six-wicket haul in the first innings by left-arm medium pace bowler James Franklin.-AP

Fleming, who averaged 17.33 in the Test series, identified McGrath as Australia's key to victory, describing the veteran as being in "the form of his life". Hitting the seam and making full use of the new ball, McGrath befuddled the Black Caps' top-order to claim seven wickets in the match. At the end of the series, McGrath was just one short of joining Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan and Courtney Walsh in the exclusive 500-club.

"Our first Test (of the forthcoming Ashes series) is at Lord's. So, as a cricketer, there is no better place to take a major milestone like 500 wickets," said McGrath, who topped all Australian wicket-takers on tour with 18 scalps at 15.72. "I haven't really targeted anyone yet (in the Ashes series). But it will be out of two blokes." — A Special Correspondent

The scores

Third Test, Auckland, March 26-29. Australia won by nine wickets.

New Zealand — 1st innings: C. Cumming lbw b Gillespie 5; J. Marshall c Hayden b McGrath 29; H. Marshall c Ponting b Warne 76; S. Fleming b Kasprowicz 65; N. Astle c Langer b McGrath 19; L. Vincent b Gillespie 2; B. McCullum c Gilchrist b McGrath 25; D. Vettori (not out) 41; J. Franklin c Katich b Warne 3; P. Wiseman c Gillespie b Warne 8; C. Martin c Clarke b Kasprowicz 0; Extras (b-4, lb-13, nb-2) 19. Total 292.

Fall of wickets: 1-15, 2-53, 3-179, 4-183, 5-194, 6-228, 7-247, 8-262, 9-288.

Australia bowling: McGrath 34-20-49-3; Gillespie 25-8-64-2; Kasprowicz 30.2-7-89-2; Warne 23-4-63-3; Ponting 4-1-10-0.

Australia — 1st innings: J. Langer b Franklin 6; M. Hayden lbw b Franklin 38; R. Ponting c McCullum b Astle 105; D. Martyn b Wiseman 38; M. Clarke (run out) 22; J. Gillespie c McCullum b Martin 35; S. Katich c Wiseman b Franklin 35; A. Gilchrist (not out) 60; S. Warne c Fleming b Franklin 1; M. Kasprowicz b Franklin 23; G. McGrath c McCullum b Franklin 0; Extras (b-4, lb-7, nb-9) 20. Total 383.

Fall of wickets: 1-8, 2-84, 3-187, 4-215, 5-226, 6-297, 7-297, 8-303, 9-377.

New Zealand bowling: Martin 21-4-92-1; Franklin 26.1-3-119-6; Astle 21-7-50-1; Vettori 19-4-47-0; Wiseman 31-7-64-1.

New Zealand — 2nd innings: C. Cumming lbw b McGrath 0; J. Marshall c Langer b McGrath 3; H. Marshall c Gilchrist b McGrath 7; S. Fleming c & b Gillespie 3; N. Astle c Katich b Warne 69; L. Vincent (run out) 40; B. McCullum lbw b Warne 0; D. Vettori c McGrath b Warne 65; J. Franklin c Ponting b Warne 23; P. Wiseman b McGrath 23; C. Martin (not out) 4; Extras (b-1, lb-14, nb-2) 17; Total 254.

Fall of wickets: 1-0, 2-9, 3-15, 4-23, 5-93, 6-93, 7-174, 8-220, 9-227.

Australia bowling: McGrath 16.2-5-40-4; Gillespie 16-4-63-1; Kasprowicz 14-2-59-0; Warne 23-5-77-4.

Australia — 2nd innings: J. Langer (not out) 59; M. Hayden (run out) 9; R. Ponting (not out) 86; Extras (lb-10, nb-2) 12; Total (for one wkt.) 166.

Fall of wicket: 18.

New Zealand bowling: Martin 8-1-51-0; Franklin 7-0-40-0; Vettori 4-0-19-0; Astle 7-0- 33-0; Wiseman 3.3-0-13-0.