Former Australia captain Steve Smith scored 77 not out to thrill a record crowd of more than 80,000 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Thursday on day one of the second cricket test against New Zealand on Thursday.
But Smith's innings left New Zealand’s bowlers “annoyed” that more wickets did not fall on day one.
Sent in to bat on a grassy pitch in overcast conditions, Australia had reached 67-2 at lunch. Openers Joe Burns (0) and David Warner (41) departed in the first session.
Australia lost the crucial wicket of Marnus Labuschagne for 63 in the post-lunch session, before going to tea at 155-3. By stumps, the home side was comfortably placed at 257-4 with Smith looking well set and Travis Head 25 not out.
While the green-topped pitch made scoring difficult all day, New Zealand’s bowlers were not quite able to take the upper hand after electing to bowl first.
Smith showed tremendous skill and patience, weathering a storm of short-pitched bowling to hit eight fours and one six from 192 balls.
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 soon 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 world No.5 Labuschagne.
After scoring centuries in Australia’s past three test matches, Labuschagne worked hard for his tally of 63 off 149 deliveries. He was bowled by Colin de Grandhomme at 144-3, having offered no shot as the ball hit his elbow before crashing into the stumps.
Matthew Wade (38) and Smith shared a 72-run partnership, while Head and Smith had added 41 until stumps.
Smith said it was tough to score against New Zealand’s leg-side field but that Australia was happy to take the honors on day one.
“After getting sent in, I think you’d take four for 257. One more good partnership tomorrow would be nice and set the game up for us,” Smith said.
“It felt like quite a difficult wicket. They used some short stuff early on. I was able to get through that.
“I was able to ride a few. I copped a few hits. It’s just a patience game and wear them down.
“The way they set the field up, there’s not a whole lot you can do and it’s risky to play the pull shot.”
Boult said one positive for New Zealand was Australia’s low run-rate of 2.85 off 90 overs.
“Four down, winning the toss … annoyed not to have them a couple more down,” Boult said.
Boult said it was “amazing” to see so many New Zealand supporters in the crowd.
“The Kiwi support was pretty cool,” said Boult, who added it was “exhilarating” to take a wicket in the opening over of the match and hear the crowd roar.
Much interest surrounds the state of the playing surface in Melbourne.
The drop-in pitch for the Ashes Test between England and Australia in 2017 was officially rated by the International Cricket Council as poor. Attempts to add more life to the pitch went astray earlier this month, when a domestic four-day game between Victoria and Western Australia was abandoned on day one due to dangerous batting conditions.
Smith says the pitch is already starting to play tricks.
“I thought there’s probably a patch … where balls were taking off a bit. We saw Marnus’ (Labuschagne’s) dismissal,” Smith said.
“That was a ball that normally would just come through probably at waist height and it bounced a bit more and caught his elbow.
“It wasn’t easy. There’s patch there that if our bowlers, particularly with our height, can hit that consistently, when we get a chance to bowl, that could be a handful.”
Fifth-ranked Australia has not hosted second-ranked New Zealand in a Boxing Day test since 1987. Thursday’s crowd of 80,473 is a record for test matches between Australia and New Zealand.
Australia leads the three-match series one-nil after claiming a 296-run win in the first test in Perth. The final match will be played in Sydney starting on Jan. 3.