Marnus Labuschagne is the gift that keeps on giving! The 25-year-old scored his maiden Test double hundred to put Australia in control but New Zealand showed good fight in the second half of Day 2 to keep the home team at bay in the third Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Saturday (January 4).
Resuming the second day on 130, Labuschagne made his summer even better by converting his century into a double hundred. The milestone came off 363 balls with 19 fours and a six and eclipsed his previous Test record of 185 against Pakistan in Brisbane last November. Labuschagne finally got out on 215 and that allowed New Zealand to make some sort of a comeback. The home team were eventually bowled out for 454 in 150.1 overs.
In response, for the first time in this series, New Zealand managed to bat out an entire session without losing a wicket. The Black Caps were 63 for no loss in 29 overs, still trailing by 391 runs, with stand-in captain Tom Latham and Tom Blundell unbeaten on 26 and 34 respectively.
Earlier, Matthew Wade was out in the day's first over, bowled off-stump while attempting to sweep offspinner Will Somerville for no addition to his overnight score of 22. With ideal batting conditions in soaring temperatures, the second new ball 10 overs old and a weakened Kiwi bowling attack, it was a poor judgement by Wade so early in the day.
Meanwhile, Melbourne Test centurion Travis Head fell to Matt Henry, cutting too close to his body and snicking to wicketkeeper BJ Watling. The Kiwi bowlers had strangled his scoring shots and his 10 runs came off 42 balls. Henry was bowling despite fracturing his left thumb on Friday. He had the injury strapped and placed in a splint to continue on playing in the Test.
Labuschagne, however, kept one end intact and made sure New Zealand couldn't make a comeback in this encounter. Australia's rock-solid No. 3 was Test cricket's leading run-getter last year with 1,104 runs and is carrying on where he left off in 2019. He was aggressive with his approach but at the same time didn't take any unnecessary risks. Tom Latham tried out all his options but couldn't stop Labuschagne as the 25-year-old crossed the 150-run mark for the third time in his career with the utmost ease.
He found an able ally in Tim Paine who stuck with Labuschagne as the two put on 79 runs for the sixth wicket. Labuschagne finally started to show some signs of nerves when he got into the 190s and was stuck on 199 for a while. The right-hander finally got to his double century by edging one to the right of the wicketkeeper. This was the first time Australia's No. 3 has scored a double ton since Steven Smith's 215 against England in July 2015.
Paine was on 35 when he got a snorter from Colin de Grandhomme as the ball came back in and knocked over the Australian skipper. Legspinner Todd Astle then set Labuschagne up with wrong'un before bowling a traditional legbreak that stopped on the pitch and the batsman ended up hitting it straight to the bowler. The home team lost both their set batsmen in the matter of few overs and that gave New Zealand an opening to wrap things up quickly.
It was pretty evident that the surface was starting to misbehave and spinners were getting enough purchase. James Pattinson (2) and Pat Cummins (8) got out without contributing much but Mitchell Starc played a decent cameo of 22 and pushed his team past the 450-run mark. For New Zealand, Neil Wagner and de Grandhomme finished with three wickets each, while Astle scalped two.
It wasn't going to get easier to bat on this surface and the last-match centurion Tom Blundell felt the wrath of it only in the second over. The first delivery of Cummins' over kept very low and beat Blundell's bat, while the second delivery took off almost from the same length and hit him on his right bicep.
Blundell and Tom Latham however showed tremendous amount of grit and despite a couple of very close calls managed to get New Zealand off to a steady start. Paine tried out all his frontline bowling options inside 10 overs but the two openers went about their business quite nicely and only left the field when the stumps were drawn.
* With inputs from AFP