Captain Daniel Vettori is backing his injured New Zealand wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum to play a full part in the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy as he rued a potential series-clinching cricket win gone begging.
Battling a painful shoulder injury, McCullum and century-maker Grant Elliott got New Zealand within sight of victory in game three before Australia clinched a 32-run win at the Sydney Cricket Ground last night.
Chasing a mammoth 302 to win -- after man-of-the-match Brad Haddin smashed 109 -- New Zealand were dismissed for 269 in the 48th over but retain a 2-1 lead with two to play. The next match is in Adelaide tomorrow.
McCullum required a painkilling jab and faces a scan on his right shoulder today to check for any internal damage after he was hit hard when standing up to a Kyle Mills delivery. Gareth Hopkins arrives today as cover.
"He wasn't going to bat then he wasn't going to keep, but he kept doing everything. To get through what he did today, he must allright," Vettori said.
"All of a sudden he appeared from nowhere with his pads on. To hit the ball as cleanly as he did, I think he's probably not too bad. He's having a scan and we hope for the best. "
McCullum slipped down to No 9 in the order, and strode to the crease with Elliott in full flight but 119 required from 83 balls.
The pair took 57 off the five-over batting powerplay and New Zealand were eyeing a stunning victory before Elliott was caught at deep mid-wicket James Hopes with the total 252.
McCullum departed two overs later when he skied a catch after whacking 36 off 27, often taking his right hand off the bat as he hit out.
The record successful runchase at the SCG was South Africa's 270 last month, so New Zealand were battling history.
Still, with Elliott playing magnificently for a second consecutive match, they had a chance. The allrounder topped his highest score of 61 not out from Melbourne with a chanceless 115 off 124 balls including eight fours.
"I thought it was a good total but a gettable one, on a really good wicket. We had an opportunity," Vettori said.
Earlier, Vettori raised eyebrows by sending Australia in to bat.
The SCG is known as a pitch best for batting early, but Vettori defended the decision with his side better chasing runs as they did in Perth and Melbourne.
"I suppose you could say with hindsight that maybe it would have been great to put 300 on the board.
"But you never know you would have done that. I still think the total was gettable and if Grant and Brendon had continued at the end then they probably would have got us home."
Elliott was the obvious star, elevated to No 4 yesterday and stepping his batting up another notch. After 14 ODIs, Elliott averages 82.75 with the bat and 15.81 with the ball.
Vettori rued New Zealand's bowling, and said Australia should have scored about 270. But he felt the momentum hadn't been lost as they look to win in either Adelaide or Brisbane to reclaim the trophy.
"We know we're in a good space, we know we're playing some good cricket, and the only way we win against Australia is if we put all three components together. Unfortunately we didn't do all three today."
Australian captain Ricky Ponting wore a relieved grin as his side ended a five-match losing streak to keep a tense series alive.
Ponting returned early from a planned two-match rest, but scored just 16 as Haddin and Michael Clarke (64) dominated with an opening stand of 135.
"We can't afford to get carried away with one win, but hopefully a bit of confidence will carry over to Adelaide," Ponting said.
"We know if we put our best cricket on the park and we're going to be competitive against any side."