Melbourne, Dec 27 (AFP/APP): Travis Head was unbeaten on 98 as he and skipper Tim Paine piled on runs to take the second Test away from New Zealand by tea on day two in Melbourne Friday.
The Black Caps were buoyed after snaring the vital wicket of batting maestro Steve Smith for 85 before lunch, but they failed to capitalise on the breakthrough.
After a morning session where tight bowling kept the run rate in check, a more aggressive Head and Paine lifted the tempo to build an imposing score.
By tea, Australia were 431 for five with Head nearing only his second Test century and Paine not out 77 in a partnership worth 147.
The visitors need to win to square the three-match series after crashing by 296 runs in the opening day-night clash in Perth.
Head, who came into the match under pressure after a lean spell, began the day on 25 and patiently built his innings.
The middle-order batsman, who made his debut against Pakistan last year, has reached three figures only once before, against Sri Lanka in Canberra this year when he smashed 161.
He was fortunate to be in the starting XI after Australia opted against playing five specialist bowlers at the last minute.
He was ably supported by Paine, who played an array of shots against a tiring attack to notch his seventh Test half-century off just 72 balls, with the 35-year-old having a golden opportunity to go on and score a maiden ton.
Australia resumed the day at 257 for four with Smith on 77.
He looked set for a 27th Test century and his fifth in as many Tests at the Melbourne Cricket Ground before a Neil Wagner bouncer ended his 242-ball knock.
It had been slow going as pace spearheads Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Wagner kept the batsmen in check, with Smith adding just eight to his overnight score in more than an hour before he was out.
Wagner had been peppering him with short balls and one ballooned off Smith’s bat handle and glove with Henry Nicholls taking a fine one-handed catch at gully.
While deprived of another ton, it marked a return to form for a player who, uncharacteristically, had gone five innings without a 50.
The Black Caps are playing their first Boxing Day Test in Melbourne since 1987, with skipper Kane Williamson winning the toss and opting to bowl.
It was a bold decision on a pitch that has traditionally favoured the batsmen.