Australia close in on victory

HAMILTON: Australia look set for a 2-0 series win following a productive fourth day of the second Test against New Zealand today.

After setting an unlikely victory target of 479, Australia reduced the hosts to 185-5, with Mitchell Johnson taking 3-39. New Zealand’s hopes rest upon Martin Guptill (29) and Brendon McCullum (19).

Earlier, Marcus North (90), Michael Clarke (63) and Brad Haddin (48) pushed Australia to 511-8 declared. Vice-captain Clarke had added his 18th Test half century before he was trapped leg before wicket of Brett Arnel. North continued his aggressive intent, confidently stroking his way towards his fifth century as Australia extended their lead to over 400. The left-hander fell 10 runs short of three figures when he was brilliantly caught behind by McCullum off left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori.

Vettori, playing in his 100th Test, removed Johnson with his very next delivery, but Australia broke the 500-mark courtesy of an enterprising knock of 41 from Nathan Hauritz, including five boundaries and two sixes. Australia captain Ricky Ponting declared the innings at lunch. The Black Caps made a solid start and had looked untroubled until opener BJ Watling (19) was cleaned bowled by a superb Johnson delivery in the 14th over. And partner Tim McIntosh departed four overs later, edging an attempted drive to wicketkeeper Haddin to leave New Zealand at 53-2.

Matt Sinclair and Ross Taylor, who struck a century in the first innings, steadied the innings, taking the total past 100 at tea as Ponting combined seam and spin on a wearing Seddon Park pitch. And he was rewarded with three wickets in the final session as New Zealand’s hopes of salvaging a draw evaporated.

Johnson was rewarded with the prized wicket of Taylor, presenting Haddin with his second catch of the innings, while spinners Clarke and Hauritz accounted for Sinclair (29) and Vettori (22). Although Guptill and McCullum successfully guided the hosts the end of the day without the further loss, Australia remain confident of wrapping up the victory early on the final day to end their summer season with yet another Test victory.