MELBOURNE - Travis Head and Tim Paine carried Australia to a strong position on day two of the Boxing Day Test, their 150-run stand lifting the hosts to 467 in the first innings.
Paine missed out on a maiden century, but Head brought up his second in Tests. And with Pat Cummins striking early and James Pattinson sending back Kane Williamson cheaply, Australia finished the second day in Melbourne 423 runs ahead. Ross Taylor (2*), who survived an lbw decision against him, and opener Tom Latham, who saw out 57 balls for his 9*, have their task cut out to pull things back for New Zealand from a disappointing 44/2.
New Zealand's bowlers weren't as threatening in the first hour of Friday, 27 December, as they had been the previous day, but were able to get the crucial wicket of Steve Smith in the morning. Neil Wagner accounted for Smith for the third time this series, the short ball tactic effective again.
Smith, who went past 900 runs at the MCG, was caught in the gully by a leaping Henry Nicholls off a rising delivery that ballooned off his gloves.
With Australia reduced to 284/5, it allowed New Zealand a window back into the game, but in continuation of the trend of the innings, their tiring bowlers were frustrated by the fifth 50-plus stand of the innings.
Paine and Head were particularly aggressive against Mitchell Santner's spin, the over before lunch going for 12 runs. The Test captain also took on Wagner, charging down the pitch in an attempt to meet his short balls.
Paine reached his fifty off a pull to the boundary; not long after, Head found the ropes behind square to bring up the century stand.
At tea, with New Zealand enduring a wicket-less session, Head was on a tense 98 and Paine on 77. The much-deserved milestone came in the third over after the break, a drive for four taking Head to three figures in 222 balls.
The skipper, playing his 30th Test, was however denied his first century, with DRS supporting Kane Williamson's decision to review an lbw call and Paine has to go back to the pavillion.
That wicket turned the visitors' fortunes slightly: the last five wickets fell for just 33 runs. Head survived an lbw appeal off Wagner, with DRS showing umpire's call, and went on to strike a couple of fours to boost the total. He became Wagner's fourth wicket, caught for 114 while going for quick runs.
Where the New Zealand pacers struggled, their Australian counterparts came out all guns blazing. Mitchell Starc consistently hit 145kph-plus, Cummins beat the edges in a remarkable first spell of 7-3-8-1 and Pattinson was all fire, claiming Williamson with a short ball, the skied shot caught by Paine. It was left to Taylor and Latham to brave the attack and attempt to rebuild on day three.
AUSTRALIA 1ST INNINGS:
D Warner c Southee b Wagner 41
J Burns b Boult 0
Labuschagne b de Grandhomme 63
S Smith c Nicholls b Wagner 85
M Wade c Watling b de Grandhomme 38
T Head c Santner b Wagner 114
T Paine lbw b Wagner 79
M Starc c Williamson b Southee 1
J Pattinson not out 14
P Cummins c Latham b Southee 0
N Lyon c Wagner b Southee 1
EXTRAS: (b 5, lb 22, w 4) 31
TOTAL: (all out, 155.1 overs) 467
FOW: 1-1, 2-61, 3-144, 4-216, 5-284, 6-434, 7-435, 8-458, 9-463, 10-467.
BOWLING: TA Boult 31-3-91-1, TG Southee 33.1-6-103-3, C de Grandhomme 30-5-68-2, N Wagner 38-11-83-4, MJ Santner 20-1-82-0, TA Blundell 3-0-13-0.
NEW ZEALAND 1ST INNINGS:
T Latham not out 9
T Blundell c Paine b Cummins 15
K Williamson c Paine b Pattinson 9
R Taylor not out 2
EXTRAS: (b 4, lb 3, nb 1, w 1) 9
TOTAL: (2 wkts, 18 overs) 44
FOW: 1-23, 2-39.
BOWLING: MA Starc 4-0-18-0, PJ Cummins 7-3-8-1, JL Pattinson 5-1-9-1, NM Lyon 2-0-2-0.
TOSS: New Zealand
UMPIRES: Nigel Llong, Marais Erasmus
TV UMPIRE: Aleem Dar
MATCH REFEREE: Sir Richie Richardson