Master batsman Steve Smith ground out an unbeaten 77 Thursday as he zeroed in on yet another century, putting Australia in the driving seat after the opening day of the second Test against New Zealand.
In the Black Caps’ first Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground since 1987, skipper Kane Williamson won the toss and opted to bowl, and it looked to be a good decision with Joe Burns out first ball and David Warner just before lunch.
But first Marnus Labuschagne, the world’s leading run-scorer for 2019, and then Smith smacked half centuries to seize back control and leave them on 257 for four, frustrating the disciplined New Zealand bowlers.
Along with the fidgety Smith, Travis Head was not out 25, desperate for runs after a lean spell. Labuschagne made 63 with Colin de Grandhomme taking 2-48.
The signs are ominous for New Zealand with superstar Smith scoring centuries in his past four Tests in Melbourne, and a fifth looking likely.
“The way they bowled and placed their field, I had to be patient,” said Smith. “It’s not the kind of wicket you could go after them. I think we did pretty well today.
“The plan will obviously be to score as many as we can (on Friday),” he added. “But after getting sent it, I think you’d take 257 for four at the end of the day. One more good partnership would be nice and sort of set the game up for us.”
The visitors need to win to square the three-match series after crashing in the opening day-night clash in Perth by 296 runs.