Domain Test Series v New Zealand
Kiwi openers stand firm after Labuschagne's 215
New Zealand post an unbroken 63-run opening stand after Queenslander’s double century steers Australia to 454 at the SCG
Andrew Ramsey at the SCG
4 January 2020, 11:30 PM AEST
In posting a double-century for the first time in his increasingly lustrous senior cricket career, Marnus Labuschagne continued to dominate the narrative of this Australia summer that he started scripting on its opening days in Brisbane last November.
But just as Labuschagne-led show of ruthless Australia dominance was taking on the distinct hint of an overworked re-run, the illness and injury-raved Black Caps followed his example and found the fortitude so demonstrably lacking in their batting earlier in the tour.
Staring at Australia's first innings score of 454, openers Tom Latham (in his guise as stand-in skipper) and Tom Blundell batted through until stumps on day two to reach 0-63, the first time in this Domain Test Series that New Zealand have negotiated a session without losing a wicket.
They return on day three still 391 runs in arrears, but with Latham unbeaten on 26 and Blundell 34 not out.
The Kiwis' belated defiance, which unfolded within a light haze of smoke from bushfires burning throughout New South Wales and beyond, might have been as much born from survival instinct as national pride.
Had either Latham or Blundell – who scored a century a week earlier at the MCG in his maiden first-class outing as an opening batter – lost their wicket early, they would have been replaced by Jeet Raval who had become the fourth squad member struck down by symptoms of the viral illness sweeping their camp.
In surviving 29 overs from Australia's previously rampant bowlers tonight, on a pitch from which the occasional delivery is already misbehaving, the pair have raised the prospect this final Test might be the first in the three-match series – indeed, the entire Test summer - to enter a fifth day.
The Australians believed they had secured a breakthrough in the shadow of stumps when Blundell (on 16) flashed at a full delivery from Pat Cummins, only for the vehement appeal for a catch behind the wicket to be turned down by umpire Aleem Dar.
Australia use up a review - no evidence to overturn the umpire's decision. #SpecsaversCricket@SpecsaversAU | #AUSvNZ pic.twitter.com/yXmFzt29hz— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) January 4, 2020
Tim Paine then chose to review the verdict, and while the initial evidence supported Dar's view subsequent forensic examination by television broadcasters suggested the opener might have found a feather touch and gained a rare reprieve for his luckless team.
Although it has taken considerably more than mere fortune for Labuschagne to forge the most extraordinary summer of Test cricket achievement that has left many of his vaunted predecessors and peers in the shade.
Beginning the stifling day - which also bore the ominous threat of potential interruption due to smoke from the hell fires that continue to raze vast tracts of south-eastern Australia - unbeaten on 130, the Queenslander lifted the third ball he faced to the boundary and was rarely troubled thereafter.
He was, however, restrained as New Zealand's second-string bowling attack sought containment ahead of penetration and succeeded in considerably slowing their rivals' scoring capacity.
Having reached 199 around the middle of the day's play, the 25-year-old then spent an anxious 20 minutes searching for the sought-after single that eventually came via a rare false stroke, his fine edge from Colin de Grandhomme's bowling flying harmlessly though a deserted slips cordon.
With his proud parents looking on from the Brewongle Stand, Labuschagne raised his bat and then his arms in triumph as he crowned his dominant summer with a personal-best first-class score surpassing the 185 he recorded in the summer's opening Test against Pakistan at the Gabba.
His 215 today lifted his tally for the five-Test Domain Series against Pakistan and NZ to 837 runs at an average of almost 120, which stands as the highest aggregate for any Australia player (Bradman included) in a five-match home Test season.
The only Test batter to have exceeded that total is former England great Walter Hammond, who peeled off 905 from five outings in the summer of 1928-29.
And Labuschagne can now claim a Test batting average of 63.63, which is superior to the 62.84 boasted by his mentor and mate Steve Smith and is second only (among those to have played 20 Test innings or more) to Bradman's seemingly untouchable 99.94.
But for all the accolades that will rightly flow in the aftermath of his 516-minute epic, it's not unfair to suggest that Labuschagne has faced more challenging bowling attacks in the Marsh Sheffield Shield than the Black Caps battery in this match.
Hobbled by injury (to swing bowler Trent Boult), illness (which sidelined skipper Kane Williamson and fellow batter Henry Nicholls and also afflicted recalled No.3 Raval today) and the omission of their most experienced seamer Tim Southee, NZ fielded an attack almost as unknown as it was unthreatening.
Those woes had extended further before play resumed today, when it was revealed Southee's replacement, Matt Henry, had been confirmed with a fractured left thumb courtesy of a blow he took from Joe Burns on the opening day, although the right-armer was still able to bowl.
So depleted have the tourists' playing stocks become, assistant coach and former Test batter Peter Fulton was kitted out in playing uniform as he ran regular drinks to the centre in the 35C heat and was prepared to stand in as a substitute fielder lest another of the squad succumb.
And when Labuschagne launched the third delivery of off-spinner Will Somerville's first over of the morning beyond mid-wicket for four, it seemed Australia were intent on capitalising on their opponents' ills by immediately picking up their day-one scoring rate of barely three runs per over.
That plan appeared to cost the wicket of Matthew Wade, who had not added to his overnight score before he aimed an ambitious sweep shot at Somerville's sixth ball which went on with the spinner's arm and crashed into off-stump.
From that point, runs were at a premium as the Black Caps cannily deployed fielders in front of the wicket on the slow SCG surface and offered laudably few freebies on which the wary Australians might feast.
The ensuing two hours to lunch yielded just 66 runs from 27 overs for the additional cost of MCG century-maker Travis Head, who laboured an hour and 20 minutes to make 10 before edging a catch behind in trying to cut too close to his body.
The grind continued after the break as stand-in skipper Tom Latham deployed a ring of eight in-fielders from point around to backward square-leg and had his bowlers pitch full and at the stumps in the hope of having their foes lift a catch in the search for runs.
It didn't bring wickets, but it certainly slowed progress to a crawl with just five boundaries (including Labuschagne's initial blow) in the first session and a further 39 runs hewn (without loss) from the 15 overs immediately after lunch.
However, no sooner had the applause for Labuschagne's milestone moment died down, the breakthrough was made and the Australia innings wrapped up.
The collapse that saw the final five wickets drop for 44 runs in around an hour began when Tim Paine missed what would have counted as a fast off-break from de Grandhomme, who had been operating at bowling speeds of barely 115kph.
The allrounder, who was elevated to opening bowler in the absence of three of the four men who comprised NZ's specialist bowling complement in the first Test at Perth less than a month ago, finished with highly creditable figures of 3-78 from 24 overs.
As ever, he received unstinting support from left-armer Neil Wagner who claimed a further three wickets including that of rival quick James Pattinson in strange circumstances.
Pattinson attempted to duck beneath one of Wagner's trademark short balls only to be struck on the right arm when it did not bounce as high as anticipated, and from there it bounced on to the back of the left-hander's bat before dribbling on to the base of his stumps.
If that set of events could be characterised as an unlucky dismissal for the batter, it was an overdue result for the Black Caps who have battled little other than wretched ill-fortune since they landed in Australia wearing the tag of world's second-ranked Test team a month ago.
Australia XI: David Warner, Joe Burns, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Matthew Wade, Travis Head, Tim Paine (c, wk), Pat Cummins, James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon
New Zealand XI: Tom Latham (c), Tom Blundell, Jeet Raval, Ross Taylor, Glenn Phillips, BJ Watling (wk), Colin de Grandhomme, Todd Astle, Will Somerville, Matt Henry, Neil Wagner
Domain Test Series v New Zealand
Australia squad: David Warner, Joe Burns, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Matthew Wade, Travis Head, Tim Paine (c, wk), Pat Cummins, Mitch Starc, Nathan Lyon, James Pattinson, Michael Neser, Mitchell Swepson
New Zealand: Todd Astle, Tom Blundell, Trent Boult, Colin de Grandhomme, Matt Henry, Kyle Jamieson, Tom Latham, Henry Nicholls, Glenn Phillips, Jeet Raval, Mitchell Santner, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, BJ Watling, Neil Wagner, Kane Williamson (c)
First Test: Australia won by 296 runs
Second Test: Australia won by 247 runs
Third Test: January 3-7, SCG (Seven, Fox & Kayo)