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Cricket news - Labuschagne grinds New Zealand on attritional day

Labuschagne stayed unbeaten on 110 as Australia made 248 for 4 on the opening day of Perth Test.

Labuschagne stayed unbeaten on 110 as Australia made 248 for 4 on the opening day of Perth Test.

Just around three months ago, Steven Smith and Jofra Archer were involved in a titanic battle in the Ashes at Lord's. Archer won that round of battle by clonking Smith with a brute of a short delivery. However, Smith not taking strike in the second innings of the Test due to the blow opened up the floodgates for the concussion substitute Marnus Labuschagne to showcase his talents. It didn't exactly start on a good note for the promising batsman, as he received a nasty blow via another rocket of a short ball from Archer. Labuschagne, though, gave a glimpse of his temperament by wading through the pacer's testing spell and scoring a crucial fifty.

Since then, the promising batsman has slowly but steadily taken his game to a different level. In the ongoing home summer, he has been in prime form, composing Test hundreds. On Day 1 of the Perth Test versus New Zealand, he compiled his third successive Test century to put Australia in a position of strength at stumps. The home side ending the day at 249 for 4.

It was a kind of an attritional day at the Perth stadium, with Australia going at less than three an over. On the other hand, despite the Test debutant Lockie Ferguson going off the field due to a calf strain midway through the day's play, New Zealand's pacers bowled with good discipline to keep their side in the hunt.

After Australia opted to bat on a track where cracks could open up as the match progresses, David Warner, the man in form, and Joe Burns gave the hosts a promising start. Ferguson and Tim Southee bowled with penetration, and the former also beat Burns with the nip-backer and found the edge with the one that straightened only for it to fall just short of the slip cordon. At 40 for no loss, the pair looked set to put Australia in the ascendancy.

However, against the run of play, Colin de Grandhomme, the all-rounder, found just enough swing and seam to win an LBW decision against Burns. The opener could have taken the review but opted not to. Later, the ball-tracker suggested it would have missed the leg-stump. Despite losing his batting partner, Warner looked in fine touch, crunching a few sublime drives. New Zealand needed a breakthrough and it was the ever-reliable Neil Wagner who provided it by taking a stunning return catch to send Warner back to the hut on the brink of the break.

In the second session, New Zealand's bowlers pegged Australia back by bowling with good control. Labuschagne and Smith were left with no option but to play attritional cricket. Wagner also tested Smith with the odd short one. Southee, his pace colleague, had a couple of LBW shouts against Labuschagne turned down. The right-hander, on his part, took advantage of any loose ball on offer - punching and pulling the New Zealand pacers to the boundary boards.

Smith, however, found it tough to find his batting rhythm. The bedrock of the Australian batting unit seemed to be struggling to get his triggers in sync. He was also dropped in the second session, with Tom Latham putting down a relatively simple chance off Ferguson. Fortunately for New Zealand, it wasn't Smith's day as in the last session, he pulled Wagner's short delivery straight to Southee at leg gully. Incidentally, in the Oval Test against England, he had guided Stuart Broad to Ben Stokes at leg gully.

Kane Williamson then took the second new ball, hoping for more breakthroughs. Southee made use of the new ball by bowling a fine inswinger from round the wicket to castle Matthew Wade. The left-hander would be disappointed with his misjudgment. Labuschagne and Travis Head then survived a couple of anxious moments to make it a satisfying day for the hosts.

Among New Zealand's bowlers, Wagner was the best of the lot, finishing with figures of 2 for 49. Even in the final over of the day, he rattled Labuschagne with a short one, only for it to fall in front of Ross Taylor at third man. Meanwhile, Southee and de Grandhomme bagged one wicket each.

Brief scores: Australia 248/4 (Marnus Labuschagne 110*; Neil Wagner 2-52) v New Zealand.

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