Australia close in on big Test victory

Wellington (AFP) –


Jackson Bird and Nathan Lyon combined to remove New Zealand's last recognised batsmen as Australia closed in on victory on the fourth day of the first Test in Wellington on Monday.

Debutant Henry Nicholls, who had offered stubborn resistance for 59 was bowled by Bird, while New Zealand's renowned stayer BJ Watling lasted 40 minutes before he was removed by Lyon for 10.

At lunch New Zealand were 241-7, requiring a further 138 if Australia are to bat again.

Doug Bracewell was not out 14 with Mark Craig on 9.

Nicholls, who resumed the day at 31 with New Zealand 198-4, brought up 50 in his maiden Test with a five, driving the ball to cover for a single and the fielder's misdirected throw to the bowler's end went through to the boundary.

The 24-year-old had batted patiently and won a battle of wits with Josh Hazlewood in the day's opening exchanges.

Hazlewood fired down a series of good length deliveries, seaming the ball away and tempting the left-hander to chase the shot.

When Nicholls refused to take the bait, Hazlewood switched to a short delivery which was pulled to the square-leg boundary.

It was left to Bird to claim his first wicket of the Test when Nicholls mistimed an attempt to whip the ball to the leg side and it crashed into his off stump.

New Zealand looked to Watling to provide resistance with the wicketkeeper having featured in two world record stands for the sixth wicket at the Basin Reserve in the past two years.

He batted for 510 minutes with Brendon McCullum in a 352-run stand that saved a Test against India in 2014 and last year batted for 479 minutes in an unbeaten 365-run stand with Kane Williamson to beat Sri Lanka.

But there was to be no fairytale performance against Australia with a 40 minute stand that produced only 10 runs.

Watling attempted to cut Lyon but was beaten by the turn and the ball took an inside edge to ricochet on to the stumps.

New Zealand lost three wickets for 63 in the session with Corey Anderson the other wicket to fall, lbw to Mitchell Marsh without scoring.

Lyon has been the most successful wicket-taker with three for 50.