- Publish Date
- Friday, 13 December 2019, 8:27AM
On a pitch that suited batsmen, in heat that reached 40 degrees, opposing some of the best players in the world, the Black Caps bowlers put in one mighty effort on the opening day of their test series against Australia.
Their reward for all that toil? An even tougher task tomorrow.
Not only did Australia reach stumps at a respectable 248-4 after winning an important toss, a right calf strain suffered by Lockie Ferguson could leave the Black Caps a bowler down for the remainder of the day-night test in Perth.
Ferguson left the field before the final session to get a MRI scan, and will be evaluated in the morning to assess whether he can bowl again in this test. His absence would be a massive blow – and not necessarily because of his performance.
Handed a test debut after Trent Boult failed to recover from a side strain, Ferguson's opening spell was wild before gradually improving, but by removing a frontline bowler, the Black Caps would be left with just three seam options in brutal heat, as well as a spinner in Mitchell Santner who struggled to tie down batsmen in unhelpful conditions.
It's a far from ideal scenario, but the Black Caps are used to having to fight and scrap for success, and even would have been able to claim day one dominance, if not for Marnus Labuschagne.
The breakout batsman of 2019, Labuschagne is the top run-scorer in tests this year, and compiled his third consecutive century in a near-faultless display. Scores of 185 and 162 against Pakistan were backed up as he reached 110 not out at stumps, anchoring the Australian innings.
He brought up his century by slapping Santner over long-on for six, but rash shots were few and far between for the man who currently averages 60. The only batsman with a higher average than him – Steve Smith – joined him at the crease to add 132 for the third wicket, a partnership which put Australia firmly in control despite New Zealand's worthy efforts.
Neil Wagner (2-52) and Tim Southee (1-53) both bowled excellently on a pitch that favoured the batsmen, while Colin de Grandhomme (1-24 from 16 overs) was also restrictive as they kept themselves in the fight with pestering lines and lengths.
Wagner and Southee combined to remove Smith, who never quite looked comfortable in his 164-ball 43. Ferguson's hopes of an iconic first test wicket were dashed when Tom Latham spilled an easy chance at second slip with Smith on 19, but Wagner's short-ball approach worked in the final session.
Peppering Smith around his body but receiving only ducks and sways, eventually the former captain was lured into playing a hook shot, and miscued it straight to Southee at leg gully – the same place he had been dismissed when facing Ferguson during the Cricket World Cup.
It was a well-executed plan, while Wagner had earlier produced a piece of magic to remove David Warner, also for 43, with the in-form opener toe-ending a full toss back to the bowler, who took a stunning one-handed return catch, inches from the ground.
De Grandhomme had taken the first scalp – trapping Joe Burns lbw for nine, though replays would show Burns should have reviewed the decision, with the ball going on to miss leg stump. However, that only brought Labuschagne to the crease, who remained there until the end of the day with yet another superb innings.
He lost a partner before stumps when Southee struck a late blow with the new ball under lights, with Matthew Wade unwisely leaving an inswinger, while Travis Head was lucky to survive a Southee inquisition, swishing and edging his way to an unbeaten 20 when play was called.
The Black Caps deserved one more wicket, but it wasn't to be, and if they have to continue with a man down tomorrow, then that might not be the only harsh outcome heading their way.
This article was first published on nzherald.co.nz and is republished here with permission