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Thursday, November 20, 2008

New Zealand on top despite defiant Clarke

Michael Clarke saved Australia from total collapse as they were dismissed for 214 on the opening day of the first Test against New Zealand in Brisbane.

Clarke was the last man out, bowled by part-timer Jesse Ryder, after batting for almost five hours to make 98.

Australia were reduced to 23-3 by seamer Tim Southee at the start of play and the youngster finished with 4-63.

New Zealand survived five overs from Brett Lee and Stuart Clark to reach 7-0 in reply at the close.

It was an excellent day for the tourists and another difficult one for Australia, who recently suffered a 2-0 series defeat in India.

It was the lowest first innings by an Australian side at the Gabba since 1990 - and they have played a Test in Brisbane every year since then. The Aussies have not lost a Test at the Queensland ground since 1988.

The hosts left out off-spinner Jason Krejza, who took 12 wickets in the final match of the India series, and opted to rely on recalled Andrew Symonds and Clarke for any slow bowling required in the match.

But it was their batting which was the immediate focus of attention after New Zealand skipper Daniel Vettori won the toss and boldly chose to put Australia in.

They only had to wait until the fourth over for the breakthrough as Southee, who found early bounce and movement, had Matthew Hayden caught at slip for eight and followed up by having Simon Katich taken by keeper Brendon McCullum for 10.

But the 19-year-old, playing in only his third Test, had not finished and picked up the biggest Australian scalp of all when he removed skipper Ricky Ponting for four - caught in the slip cordon off the shoulder of the bat as he tried to defend.

"We had to make the most of conditions early on, on a bowler-friendly wicket, and I think we did. We bowled well as a unit and the catching was fantastic," said Southee.

The home side managed to halt the slide temporarily as Clarke and Mike Hussey came together in a stand of 73.

But Hussey fell lbw to Chris Martin for 35 - playing no shot outside off-stump - and the dismissal of Symonds, who was caught behind off Iain O'Brien for 26, sparked another slump.

The O'Brien-McCullum combination also accounted for Shane Watson, who only managed a single before top edging an attempted cut, and part-time seamer Ryder then picked up the wicket of Brad Haddin for six.

Lee departed for four, giving Southee his fourth success by edging to the keeper and Vettori's left-arm spin accounted for Mitchell Johnson, who made five.

Only Clarke offered the kind of resistance normally expected from Australia and after reaching fifty off 136 balls, looked well set for his ninth Test century and second against New Zealand.

Number 11 Clark tried his best to see him to three figures, hanging on for 40 deliveries for an unbeaten 13, but Clarke fell two runs short of a ninth Test century as Ryder found a way through his defence to bring Australia's innings to an end.

"If you had told me I was going to get 98 this morning, I would have been rapt.

"But obviously, getting that close, and the way Stuey Clark hung in there for me, I'm disappointed I didn't make a hundred," said Clarke.

Despite his side's modest total, Clarke insisted they were still in the game because of the pitch.

"There was a bit of seam there, a bit more grass on the wicket than we've been used to.

"You'd like to make 350 every day you bat, but after getting sent in, I think we can certainly take some positives out of that.

"Tomorrow we're going to have to be patient, but I think once we get that first wicket, we'll get on a bit of a roll and hopefully get into the Kiwis' middle order."

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