Marnus Labuschagne hundred gives Australia control against New Zealand

Marnus Labuschagne’s third straight century put Australia on top in the first Test against New Zealand in Perth. After Labuschagne’s 110 not out gave Australia the upper hand, they lost two late wickets in an enthralling final session against the pink ball at Optus Stadium.

Steve Smith fell for 43 before Matthew Wade left an in-swinger from Tim Southee that took his off stump, leaving Travis Head (20 not out) to survive a nervous last half-hour.

The Black Caps copped body blow after body blow in the series opener, with Trent Boult ruled out with a side strain and his replacement, Lockie Ferguson, needing scans on his calf on his Test debut. But they showed precisely why they haven’t lost a Test series since March 2017.

Armed with a plan to dry up Steve Smith, they used their pet tactic of employing catchers behind the wicket on the legside for him. Smith finally fell for it when he pulled Neil Wagner straight to Tim Southee at leg trap, marking the second straight time he has been out in that fashion to New Zealand.

The innings was the slowest of the right-hander’s career when he has scored above 20, as he fought hard for 43 from 164 balls at a strike-rate of 26.21 He did not hit his first boundary until his 52nd ball and was later dropped on 19 at second slip by Tom Latham when he flayed away at Ferguson.

Optus Stadium

The sun sets on the Optus Stadium on the first day of the pink-ball Test in Perth. Photograph: Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images

Labuschagne meanwhile was brilliant at the other end, as he became the first Australian No 3 since Don Bradman to hit three consecutive centuries. The Queenslander started watchfully in a dogged first session and a half, before taking control of the game.

As he got more expansive so did he score. He brought up his 50 when he uppercut Ferguson for four, while his century came up when he jumped down the wicket and hit Mitchell Santner for six over long on.

Labuschagne now averages 89.88 since being called into the Australia side as a concussion substitute for Smith at Lord’s in the Ashes this year. His 132-run stand with Smith for the third wicket here was the second century partnership he has enjoyed with the man he so closely resembles in quirky traits.

Wagner (with two for 52) had earlier taken the catch of the season to remove the in-form David Warner for 43. With Warner looking set for another big innings he bunted a low full toss back at the left-armer Wagner just before tea. The ball never went above shin height and the Black Caps quick fell low to his right and took the ball with one hand.

It was only the second time Warner has been dismissed this Test summer, having amassed 532 runs after a big series against Pakistan. Joe Burns was the first man out, trapped lbw by Colin de Grandhomme on nine before ball tracking later showed he would have been not out had he reviewed it.


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