Melbourne, Dec 26 (AFP/APP): Marnus Labuschagne plundered a fifth consecutive half-century as Australia weathered some fine New Zealand bowling to reach 155 for three at tea on the opening day of the second Test on Thursday.
In the Black Caps’ first Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground since 1987, skipper Kane Williamson won the toss and opted to bowl, and it looked to be a good decision with Joe Burns out first ball.
But Labuschagne marched to the crease and again proved rock-solid, compiling 63 before being out in bizarre fashion, with a rising Colin de Grandhomme ball ricocheting off his elbow and onto the stumps as he attempted to leave it.
A fidgety Steve Smith was not out 41 alongside Matthew Wade, who was unbeaten on seven.
The visitors need to win to square the three-match series after crashing in the opening day-night clash in Perth by 296 runs.
It was a bold decision by Williamson to bowl on a pitch that has traditionally been docile and favoured the batsmen.
And it appeared to pay dividends in a sizzling opening over from Trent Boult, back after missing two Tests with a rib injury.
After three testing balls to David Warner, his fourth clattered into Burns’ middle stump, with the opener out for a golden duck to huge roars from the large New Zealand contingent in the 70,000-plus crowd.
Boult was sorely missed by the Black Caps in Perth and along with Tim Southee found swing and zip with the ball.
Labuschagne and Warner dug in to wrestle back control before a Neil Wagner delivery saw Warner caught at slip for 41 attempting a drive, with Southee taking an outstanding one-handed catch.
Master batsman Smith was met with a mix of boos and cheers as he walked out and after a lean summer, by his standards, appears determined to build a decent score, smashing one big six in his patient 97-ball knock.
Labuschagne looked also looked set for another big score before his dismissal, having converted three of his previous four 50s into centuries.
But it wasn’t to be and he was fuming as he left the pitch, swinging his bat in frustration.
He was lucky to survive a certain run out on 27 when Smith drove to mid-on and called for a run but then sent his partner back, only for Williamson’s throw to miss the stumps.
Undeterred, Labuschagne brought up a hard-fought 50, off 132 balls, with a boundary off Boult.