Marnus Labuschagne scored a third Test century in as many matches, but Australia were still made to struggle at times by New Zealand on a riveting opening day of the pink-ball match in Perth.
In fact, stumps was perhaps accompanied by a sigh of relief from the Australians, after Tim Southee and Neil Wagner put in blistering late spells with the second new ball to make it a nervous ending to the day for the home side. That said, for the most part, Australia bossed the day, ending it 248/8, with Labuschagne unbeaten on 110, accompanied by Travis Head on 20*.
Australia opted to bat, and David Warner seemed to be in the mood right from the start, driving Tim Southee through covers in the third over the day. Warner and Joe Burns batted through the first hour, with the former finding the fence every now and then. Burns had a harder time of it, beaten a couple of times, and he fell shortly after the hour-mark, with Colin de Grandhomme moving one in off the seam to trap him under the knee roll. Burns deliberated reviewing that decision, but decided against it, and replays suggested he should have.
It was then that Labuschagne took the field. His first boundary came a few overs later – a crisp drive off Wagner for four – but his association with Warner didn’t last as long as they’d have hoped, despite both batsmen looking in good nick. That was thanks to Wagner, who took a superb return catch off Warner on his follow through when the batsman chipped one back. Warner had looked good during his 74-ball stay, but had to walk back for 43.
Labuschagne then took charge, even though it was the force of Steve Smith at the other end. Smith looked off rhythm and never settled during his 164-ball knock – he was beaten numerous times, and was fortunate to be dropped by Tom Latham at slip when he was on 20 – but Labuschagne ensured the partnership never suffered.
The duo put on 132 for the third wicket, with Labuschagne contributing 88 of those runs. New Zealand weren’t helped by the fact that their pacer Lockie Ferguson sustained a calf injury midway through the day and had to leave the field. Labuschagne kept going, and showed no signs of nerves in the 90s; he brought up three figures with a six down the track, taking Australia past the 200 mark in the process.
With a little more than 15 overs left in the day, New Zealand finally had their breakthrough. Wagner put a leg gully in place and sent in a short delivery to Smith, who promptly looked to play at the delivery instead of evading it, and was caught. With the new ball in hand, Southee then got one to move sharply into the left-handed Matthew Wade, and the stumps were knocked back even as the batsman offered no shot.
New Zealand continued to probe in the few overs that remained in the day, and with significant movement under lights, both Labuschagne and Head were beaten a few times. Importantly, though, they survived, and the teams will go again on the second afternoon.
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