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Umpiring blunder leaves Australia on top, New Zealand fuming

Nathan Lyon on his way to edge a delivery and be given not out. (Photo courtesy: sportal.com.au)
Nathan Lyon on his way to edge a delivery and be given not out. (Photo courtesy: sportal.com.au)
Nathan Lyon on his way to edge a delivery and be given not out. (Photo courtesy: sportal.com.au)

Let’s just say if New Zealand were to lose the first-ever day-night Test, 3rd umpire Nigel Llong would not be invited to their post-match get-together.

It was yet another exhilarating day of Test cricket, one in which Australian bowlers made full use of the swinging pink ball to tilt the scales back in the home team’s favour. But it was an umpiring blunder, nay a positive howler, that took the spotlight.

Resuming at 52/2, Australia quickly tumbled to 116/8 in a little more than 25 overs, thanks to some brilliant swing bowling and some atrocious shot selection. Doug Bracewell led New Zealand’s charge with the ball as the visitors struck at regular intervals to shatter the Australian middle-order. Only captain Steven Smith showed some resilience, scoring a half century.

Australia should have been 9 down at 116, but what followed could prove to be the turning point of the match: Nathan Lyon top-edged a Mitchell Santner delivery, which bounded off his shoulder and was taken at slip. Despite confident appeals, Lyon was given not out, prompting Brendon McCullum to go upstairs, and then began the real drama. Hot Spot showed a definite spot on the top edge of Lyon’s blade. But Snicko provided no conclusive evidence. Umpire Nigel Llong then called for video to review whether Lyon could be adjudged LBW for when the ball hit his arm. Bizarrely, he was shown footage that did not belong to the delivery in question. In the end, Lyon was given asked to walk back to the pitch, when the man himself had walked off halfway to the dressing room.

New Zealand, so far so confident with the ball, looked deflated by the decision and lost their focus. Lyon scored 34 runs of his own, adding 74 runs for the 9th wicket with wicketkeeper Peter Nevill. He then departed edging a Trent Boult delivery to gully.

Australia weren’t done yet, though. Mitchell Starc, nursing a stress fracture. He was greeted by a vicious Boult yorker, but managed to grind it out. His bravery paid off in one innocuous Mark Craig over, in which the Australian No. 11 blasted 20 runs. The Baggy Greens finally finished with 224 runs on the board when half-centurion Nevill was brilliantly taken by Santner, playing a lofted drive off Doug Bracewell.

In the second innings, the Australian dominance continued, this time with the ball. Josh Hazlewood ran through the Kiwi top order, leaving the visitors reeling at 116/5.

At the end of day’s (or night’s) play, New Zealand were left with a lead of only 94 runs with the last recognised batting pair of Santner and BJ Watling at the crease, with only the tail-enders to come.

It could have been a lot worse for the Black Caps, though, had Steve Smith not dropped a tumbling catch to reprieve BJ Watling. Smith had said earlier that spotting the pink ball was getting tricky, particularly from behind the stumps.

The Australian captain will be hoping that the pitch continues to exhibit the same behaviour and his bowlers polish off the lower-order swiftly, as chasing could get really tricky under the floodlights.

The pink-ball has so far produced an excellent Test match. Amidst lingering issues surrounding its seam, a riveting finish to the Adelaide encounter could banish all concerns and highlight the viability of day-night Tests.

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