Sport Cricket Second Test finely balanced after a day of contrasting fortunes
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Second Test finely balanced after a day of contrasting fortunes

Marnus Labuschagne loses his wicket after a sparkling 63. Photo: AAP
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Second Test, MCG, day one

First innings: Australia 4-257, stumps

Smith 77, Head 25

The second Test at the MCG is finely balanced after New Zealand struck early to have Australia on the back foot, only to end the day with Steve Smith heading towards his first century of the summer.

It was a day of contrasting fortunes, with both teams having purple patches on a pitch that offered little for the bowlers.

At stumps Australia was 4-257, with Smith on 77, with Travis Head on 25.

Midway through the afternoon session the tourists captured the wicket of Matthew Wade, who had been building a strong partnership with Smith.

Wade was caught behind off Colin de Grandhomme for 38 after a cat-and-mouse battle between the pair through the afternoon session.

Smith looks on track for another big score, having pushed past 75 without being troubled and at stumps still being supported by Head.

Earlier, in-form Marnus Labuschagne helped Australia to regain some momentum after a good opening session for the tourists.

Labuschagne and Smith struck an 83-run partnership that had resurrected the Australian first innings after its openers were dismissed in the first session.

On 63, Labuschagne was bowled by de Grandhomme, after attempting to leave a delivery that rose higher than anticipated, cannoning off his elbow and on to the stumps.

The Black Caps had been on top early in the day, taking the key wickets of the Australian openers after sending the home side into bat on a controversial MCG deck.

“I thought they played pretty well and then obviously, as the sun came out, it got easier to bat later on,” New Zealand paceman Neil Wagner told the ABC.

“We tried really hard, but it didn’t really happen for us.”

The tourists won the toss and made the most of it, with Joe Burns clean bowled middle stump on his first ball from returning paceman Trent Boult.

Australia looked in strife at 1-1, but David Warner was joined by Labuschagne and the pair steadied as the pitch started to warm up as the morning progressed.

Warner looked set, but on 41 off 63 balls he was drawn into a shot off Wagner and edged the ball to Tim Southee, who took a one-handed catch in slips.

At lunch Australia was 2-67, with Smith taking some punishment and complaining to the umpires about dead balls being called when he was hit trying to evade short-pitched balls.

Boult had figures of 1-23 and Wagner 1-10.

Australia made only one change to its team, bringing paceman James Pattinson in for the injured Josh Hazlewood, with Head keeping his spot after earlier being expected to miss out in favour of another bowler.

Australia skipper Tim Paine had inspected the pitch on Thursday morning and a green tinge suggested a more traditional batting line-up was in order.

Boult was back from injury for New Zealand and Tom Blundell is also a new selection to open the batting.

Before the match Pattinson told Channel Seven that he was thrilled to return to the Australian team for the MCG Test.

“[It’s] pretty special,” he said. “Ecstatic, it is going to be a massive crowd. I was pumped get out there … I was working towards getting back to Test cricket and planning Boxing Day.

“Hopefully I can do Australia proud … It’s a special time of year and nothing better than the Boxing day Test.”

The Australian team huddle on the MCG after inspecting the pitch. Photo: AAP

The tourists are keen to level the series after being thrashed in Perth when Australia set a huge first-innings total.

It is the Black Caps’ first Test at the MCG for 32 years – the last Boxing Day Test between the nations in 1987 resulted in a draw.

“There’s a sense of romance about being involved in the Boxing Day Test,” New Zealand captain Kane Williamson said on Wednesday.

“I know we always play cricket on Boxing Day, but I think there’s only one Boxing Day Test and it’s the one over here.

“At the same time, it’s sort of removing a little bit of that (hype) and bringing the focus back to the cricket.

“Perth was tough and Australia were very good and tactically sound. It’s important we learn from some bits of Perth.”