Sydney: New Zealand made a secure start after a Marnus Labuschagne double century lifted Australia to a massive 454 first innings total in the third Test on Saturday.
The rock-solid number three reached his highest Test score of 215 in Sydney with the Australians dismissed just before tea on the second day.
In reply, the Blackcaps grittily batted through the final session without losing a wicket, leaving skipper Tom Latham on 26 and Melbourne Test centurion Tom Blundell at 34 in their team’s total of 63.
There were a couple of close calls — notably a leg before wicket appeal off Nathan Lyon and a possible edge off Pat Cummins — but the Kiwis showed plenty of fight after enduring five tough sessions in the field in sapping heat.
The day belonged to Labuschagne, who sweated on 199 for 20 minutes before he thick edged Colin de Grandhomme through the vacant slips to the ropes to bring up his double ton.
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.
“They batted really well to finish the day off. I thought we bowled really well,” Labuschagne said.
“The wicket looks like it’s going to go a little up and down and spin a bit but we stuck to our guns there and hopefully the rewards will come tomorrow.
“It’s always a privilege to play for Australia and it was nice to get some runs today and when you’re batting well it’s nice if you can make them count.”
Labuschagne’s prodigious form has notched him a total of 837 runs since November and he has now leapfrogged the great Neil Harvey (834) for most runs scored by an Australian during a five-Test summer.
He was also Test cricket’s leading run-getter last year with 1,104 runs.
The Kiwis finally dispatched him after he was caught and bowled by leg-spinner Todd Astle.
Skipper Tim Paine supported Labuschagne to reach his double century before he was bowled between his bat and pad by de Grandhomme for 35.
Paine faced 92 balls and shared in a 79-run stand with Labuschagne to take Australia beyond 400.
– Wickets tumble –
Wickets tumbled quickly just before tea with James Pattinson bowled by Neil Wagner for two, Pat Cummins caught off Astle’s bowling for eight and Mitchell Starc hitting a breezy 22 off 21 balls before he was bowled by Wagner, who finished with three for 66.
The hosts lost two wickets in the morning session.
Matthew Wade was out in the day’s first over, bowled off-stump while attempting to sweep off-spinner Will Somerville for no addition to his overnight score of 22.
Melbourne 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.
The Sydney Test is being played against the backdrop of one of Australia’s most devastating bushfire seasons with at least 20 people losing their lives in blazes raging across the country, including on the outskirts of Sydney.
Play will be suspended in the match at the umpire’s discretion, should smoke significantly affect air quality or visibility, but the sky above the ground has remained largely clear so far.