SYDNEY – Marnus Labuschagne scored his fourth century in five matches this summer as Australia continued its dominance of New Zealand by reaching 283-3 after the first day of the third test.
Labuschagne shared a 156-run partnership with Steve Smith, who made 63, to give first day honors to Australia after captain Tim Paine won the toss and batted Friday on a dry Sydney Cricket Ground pitch. At stumps, Labuschagne was 130 not out with Matt Wade on 22.
It was a long day in the field for a depleted New Zealand, which was forced to make five lineup changes, including the absence of captain Kane Williamson because of a virus. Neil Wagner and Colin de Grandhomme again most-troubled the Australian batsmen, with Wagner’s short-pitched aggressive line complemented by de Grandhomme’s accurate swing bowling.
Smith took 39 balls to get off the mark as his series nemesis Wagner — who hit the star batsman on the body with his first ball — employed his short-pitched tactic to good effect to limit the Smith’s scoring options and greatly slowed Australia’s run-rate in the hour after lunch.
Labuschagne, however, was untroubled and kept the score ticking over, raising his 50 off 97 balls.
The 25-year-old batsman continued to score serenely and reached his fourth century in seven innings this summer with a clip to fine leg for a boundary off de Grandhomme in the 72nd over.
Labuschage celebrated his first hundred at the SCG — coming 12 months after his shock selection at No. 3 against India at the same venue — by raising both arms to the crowd before embracing batting partner Smith, who had reached his half-century two overs prior. His stylish century came off 163 balls with eight boundaries and one six.
“This time last year I was sitting here and there were a lot of questions,” Labuschagne said, referring to criticism of his inclusion in the top order against India here last year. “I believed that I had the ability. For me it was a lot of mental stuff and just making sure I stayed focus for long periods of times.
“It’s been an amazing time.”
The 156-run third-wicket partnership was eventually broken by de Grandhomme (2-63), who teased Smith into driving a ball outside off-stump and found the edge which carried to Ross Taylor at slip.
Smith’s second half century of the series also saw him surpass world No. 1-ranked batsman Virat Kohli’s current career tally of 7,202 runs in 84 tests, with the Australian taking 11 tests fewer to reach the same mark at an average of 62.84.
Opener Joe Burns (18) was the only wicket to fall in the first session when he edged to Taylor in the slips off de Grandhomme.
Wagner (1-48) then struck with the third ball after lunch by tempting David Warner into a pull stroke and had him caught by de Grandhomme at leg gully. Warner made 45 runs, his third score in the 40s this series.
After losing Trent Boult to a hand injury sustained in last week’s second test, a virus swept through New Zealand’s squad leading to five changes here in Sydney.
Glenn Phillips, who only flew in from Auckland on Thursday as injury cover for Williamson, made his test debut. Tom Latham was named captain, and Mitchell Santner, Henry Nicholls and Tim Southee were also out.
Seamer Matt Henry, spinners Todd Astle and Will Somerville and batsman Jeet Raval were the other inclusions for the tourists.
Australia was unchanged from the lineup that clinched the series 2-0 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground last weekend.
Players from both teams wore black armbands in memory of those killed in current wildfires in southern New South Wales and Victoria states. Conditions were expected to worsen on Saturday and smoke from the fires could affect play on the second day of the test.
Before the match began, a minute of applause was held to thank the thousands of emergency personnel, many of them volunteers, who are fighting the fires.