A brave New Zealand pursuit of a record runchase fell short tonight as Australia grabbed a 32-run win to ensure a tense finale to the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy one-day international cricket series.
Led by 115 from BLACKCAP's man-of-the-moment Grant Elliott and a gutsy 36 off 27 from an injured Brendon McCullum, the tourists were dismissed for 269 off 47.5 overs in game three at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
It left the series well poised with New Zealand 2-1 up with two to play, after Australian captain Ricky Ponting returned from a rest one match early with the series on the line.
A rejuvenated Australia, led by promoted opener Brad Haddin's blazing 109, rattled up 301 for nine, leaving New Zealand needing a record successful SCG runchase. South Africa held that honour with 270 here last month.
Vice-captain McCullum was pushed down to No 9 in the order after receiving a nasty blow on the point of the right shoulder when standing up to Kyle Mills' bowling.
It required a painkilling injection and saw Gareth Hopkins flown in for the second time in a week as injury cover. A scan in Adelaide tomorrow will determine any internal damage and whether he can play a full part in game four on Tuesday.
McCullum strode out at No 9 with 119 required from 83 balls and the batting powerplay underway.
The BLACKCAPS dared to dream when he and Elliott took 57 off five overs, and a jubilant Elliott cruised to three figures off 107 balls.
But Elliott's fine hand, off 124 balls including eight fours, ended when he was caught at mid-wicket, then McCullum followed two overs later, also caught when he swung wildly and let go of the bat.
Playing his 14th ODI, Elliott topped his highest score of 61 not out set in Friday's six-wicket win in Melbourne and offered his team some hope. Promoted to No 4, he was outstanding square of the wicket and kept a cool head.
Martin Guptill and Ross Taylor departed early and it was 16 for two, although replays showed Taylor got an inside edge to his lbw decision by umpire Steve Bucknor.
Elliott and Peter Fulton added 80 for the third wicket in quick time before Fulton was brilliantly caught by Cameron White for 40.
When Neil Broom, Mills and captain Daniel Vettori were all dismissed within 14 balls it was 157 for six in the 34th and it looked bleak.
Despite the SCG often proving a tricky surface to chase down totals on, Vettori sent Australia in and backed his side to replicate the series pattern where they'd chased 182 and 226.
Two things changed from games one and two: Australia showed intent from the start and senior New Zealand paceman Mills wasn't as dominant.
Having taken a combined five for 72 in Perth and Melbourne, Mills' opening six-over spell went for 31 and he ended with two for 59 off nine.
Haddin and Michael Clarke (64) formed a new opening partnership with the struggling David Warner axed, and they plundered 135 off 23.3 overs.
In his 41st ODI, Haddin passed his previous best of 87 not out to reach 109 off 114 balls, including eight fours and three sixes. His only blemish was on 76 when Fulton dropped a running chance at long-on.
McCullum soldiered on and produced some brilliance to dive and run out Haddin in the 38th over, but Michael Hussey's 51 off 32 ensured 300 was always within sight.
Elliott chipped in with two for 44 while Iain O'Brien had the most New Zealand success with three for 68.