Aaron Finch defied the doubters as Australia kept alive its Twenty 20 series hopes with a 64-run victory over New Zealand on Wednesday.
At an empty Sky Stadium in Wellington, Finch roared back into form with 69, before Glenn Maxwell’s quick-fire 70 pushed Australia to 4-208 and beyond the Black Caps’ reach.
Ashton Agar then provided a second-innings turning point, claiming three wickets in the 13th over on his way to a career-best 6-30.
Tasmanian speedster Riley Meredith took an impressive 2-24 on debut as New Zealand finished all out for 144.
The result keeps the series in the balance – the Kiwis lead 2-1 with two matches to go – and takes some pressure off the under-fire Australian skipper.
Finch did need a slice of good fortune though, surviving a first-ball lbw shout by umpire Chris Gaffaney with the ball hitting the stumps.
Shaking off the scare, Finch combined well with Josh Philippe (43 runs off 27 balls), reaching his half-century with a stunning switch-hit six off Ish Sodhi.
The 34-year-old holed out from the spinner shortly after, but put his run of poor knocks firmly in the rear-view mirror.
With a platform laid for a decent total, Maxwell went to work.
The Victorian started slowly with just five off nine but accelerated sharply, making 65 off his next 20 balls.
Maxwell clubbed 28 off one Jimmy Neesham over to leave the Kiwi with dispiriting figures of 0-60.
Setting out for what would be their highest-ever chase, the Kiwis struggled in response to Meredith’s pace.
In his first international over, he claimed the wicket of Tim Seifert (4) as he ticked over 150km/h.
In his second, he sent the world’s No.1-ranked Test batsman to the sheds, trapping Kane Williamson lbw for nine.
The wicket was sorely required, with Martin Guptill’s big-hitting putting the Kiwis on pace early.
Guptill almost decapitated the off-strike Williamson with a low drive on his way to 43 off 28 deliveries.
When the veteran was caught in the deep off Adam Zampa’s bowling, Australia was in the box seat.
Agar then made sure of the victory with a stunning spell, claiming his first wickets of the series to dismiss Glenn Phillips, Devon Conway and Jimmy Neesham in one over.
The COVID-hit series concludes with further matches at Sky Stadium in Wellington on Friday and Sunday.