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Rain bails out the Kiwis

WELLINGTON, MARCH 22. New Zealand's prayers for rain were answered on Tuesday when the final day of the second cricket Test was abandoned with Australia seven wickets away from a match and series victory.

Michael Kasprowicz captured his 100th Test wicket as Australia, harassed by intermittent showers, made a futile attempt to push New Zealand to an innings defeat and take a 2-0 lead in the three-Test series.

Rain plagued the match, washing out the first day and costing time on every other day. The heaviest and most persistent cycle of showers washed out play shortly after lunch.

Only 73 minutes play was possible on the final day — just 19.2 overs were bowled — and New Zealand's second innings was in the early stages of decline at 48 for three when steady rain brought the match to an end.

Umpires David Shepherd of England, standing in his final match in the Southern Hemisphere, and Rudi Koertzen of South Africa decided at the scheduled tea break that there could be no further play.

New Zealand earned a draw and was able to keep the series tenuously alive ahead of the third Test which starts in Auckland on Saturday.

Australia's match

All honours in the match belonged to Australia, which made 570 for eight declared in its first innings after losing the toss and being forced to bat in difficult conditions. New Zealand was dismissed for 244 and had to follow-on.

Glenn McGrath took two wickets in the third over of the day to have New Zealand staggering at three for two and Kasprowicz took his 100th with the first ball of the second session to further weaken the home side's position.

New Zealand was then 37 for three with captain Stephen Fleming (1), Hamish Marshall (0) and Lou Vincent (24) dismissed and its fragile middle order exposed.

Rain allowed just 60 minutes play before lunch and 13 minutes after. Australia had no chance to enforce its obvious advantage before low cloud and showers ended proceedings.

``It's been a pretty disappointing week all round,'' said Australian captain Ricky Ponting. ``We had enough time to win. We still had to bowl well but we'd started off pretty well so if we'd had another 60 overs at them we might have created enough chances.''

Praise for Kasprowicz

Ponting praised Kasprowicz, who had been under pressure from Brett Lee to hold his place in the Australian side.

Kasprowicz justified his selection with three for 42 in the first innings and one for 11 in the second.

``It was a great milestone for him,'' Ponting said of Kasprowicz's 100th Test wicket.

``He's had a lot of breaks and stop-starts in his Test career but he's been outstanding over the last couple.''

New Zealand was demoralised after its 5-0 loss in the one-day series and its nine-wicket defeat in the first Test at Christchurch.

``The rain got us out of jail so we're not too disappointed with the weather,'' Fleming said.

``We had an opportunity in the first innings but we didn't take our chances and didn't create enough and from then we were on the back foot. Adam Gilchrist (162, Man of the Match) and Damien Martyn (165) cemented Australia's position and from then on we were chasing their tail,'' Fleming said.

``Our skill level is below where it needs to be,'' he added. ``We're playing the game under most of the pressure and if you do that you're going to lose more than you win.'' — AP

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