Aus Vs NZ: Smith, Labuschagne fifties give Australia Day 1 honours


On a hard-working day at the MCG – with punches and counter-punches being landed with equal measure – Australia had an edge thanks to Steve Smith’s unbeaten presence.

Australia had four their top five crossing 30 but only Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne converted their starts into half-centuries while New Zealand found ways to end promising partnerships and account for most of the top order. Smith, though, remained steadfast, helping the hosts end Day 1 of the Boxing Day Test at 257 for 4.

Having opted to bowl, it was an ideal start for New Zealand when Joe Burns was bowled by Trent Boult for a golden duck, with the ball curving in and beating the batsman on the drive. Marnus Labuschagne and David Warner were tested outside off, with both playing and missing a few times. But they survived and built a steady half-century stand, ensuring Australia did not lose any more wickets in the first hour.

Close to the lunch break, Wagner managed to end the partnership by getting Warner to edge a full delivery to second slip where Tim Southee held on to a good catch. And then it was time for the short-ball tactics when Smith walked out, with a short leg and leg gully in place. Smith managed to survive the barrage before the break but was livid, showing his displeasure to the umpire over dead-ball calls when he wore a couple of short balls on his body.

Short deliveries dominated the start of the second session with Neil Wagner battling it out against Smith, with the batsman constantly ducking and weaving. Southee, though, wasn’t as effective as Wagner and was put away for a couple of fours by Smith, one of which was an authoritative pull. Labuschagne, meanwhile, employed the pull against Wagner, having been handed a reprieve earlier when Kane Williamson missed a direct hit at the non-striker’s end. The determined pair, with exaggerated leaves, saw off New Zealand’s short-ball persistence to survive the hour after Lunch.

Mitchell Santner’s bowling made for easy pickings for Labuschagne and Smith, who struck a pull and a shot down the ground respectively for a couple of sixes. There were a few outside edges off Labuschagne’s bat that evaded the fielders as the 25-year-old registered his fifth successive fifty-plus score. But his outing came to an end before the tea break when he attempted to leave a Colin de Grandhomme delivery but the ball struck his elbow and ricocheted on to the stumps. Wagner was back for a small burst towards the end of the session and, as was expected of him, he peppered the batsmen with short balls. But Smith and Matthew Wade survived as Australia went into the break three down.

Copping a blow on his body and helmet, almost finding the fielder at leg gully, and having had to evade the ball plenty of times, it was a testing period for Wade on either side of the tea break, with Wagner going hard at him. Smith, meanwhile, edged a couple of Southee deliveries en route his fifty as the fourth wicket pair built a watchful partnership. Hard work was the base for the partnership, which was built mostly by collecting singles, the occasional twos and threes, while Smith did manage a few boundaries.

New Zealand, despite all their hard work and finding the edges multiple times, did not have any luck on their side. The three fours that Wade managed were all off edges, adding to New Zealand’s frustrations until de Grandhomme tempted the left-hander into a drive and found the outside edge that landed in the hands of the ‘keeper. The visitors took the second new ball straight away and operated with Boult and Southee. But they weren’t able to do any damage as Smith found an able ally in Travis Head with whom he put on an unbeaten 41-run stand.

Brief scores: Australia 257/4 (Steve Smith 77*, Marnus Labuschagne 63; Colin de Grandhomme 2-48) vs New Zealand.

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