MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – Former Australia captain Steve Smith scored 77 not out to thrill a record crowd of more than 80,000 spectators at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Thursday on the first day of the second test against New Zealand.
Sent in to bat on a grassy pitch in overcast conditions, Australia had reached 67-2 at lunch in front of a record crowd of 80,473. Openers Joe Burns (0) and David Warner (41) departed in the first session.
Australia lost the crucial wicket of Marnus Labuschagne in the post-lunch session, before going to tea at 155-3. By stumps, the home side was 257-4 with Smith on 77 and Travis Head 25 not out.
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.”
While the green-topped pitch made scoring difficult all day and was particularly difficult for batting in the first session, New Zealand’s bowlers were not quite able to take the upper hand after electing to bowl first.
Smith showed tremendous patience, weathering a storm of short-pitched bowling with a stacked leg-side field to hit eight fours and one six from 192 deliveries.
Trent Boult struck with the fourth delivery of the match, removing Burns who was bowled for a first-ball duck. New Zealand scored a second breakthrough shortly before lunch when Warner was caught at second slip off the bowling of Neil Wagner at 61-2.
World No.2-ranked batsman Smith was struck several times by short balls as he shared an 83-run stand with Labuschagne.
After scoring centuries in Australia’s past three test matches, Labuschagne played a patient score of 63 off 149 deliveries. The right-hander was bowled by medium-pacer Colin de Grandhomme at 144-3, having offered no shot as the ball hit his elbow and then crashed into the stumps.
Matthew Wade (38) and Smith shared a 72-run partnership. Wade was caught behind at 216-4 as de Grandhomme claimed his second wicket of the innings.
Fifth-ranked Australia has not hosted second-ranked New Zealand in a Boxing Day test match since 1987.
Thursday’s crowd was a record for test matches between Australia and New Zealand. It is also the highest Boxing Day crowd for a non-Ashes fixture since 85,661 fans watched Greg Chappell’s side take on Clive Lloyd’s West Indies in 1975, Cricket Australia said in a statement.
Australia leads the three-match series after claiming a 296-run win in the first test in Perth. The final match will be played in Sydney starting on Jan. 3.