Australia resumes day two of the second Test at the MCG looking to push towards a total that can put pressure on New Zealand despite the docile nature of the pitch.
With the home side on 4-257, Steve Smith is heading towards another century having seen off the tourists’ short-ball attack to start Friday’s play on 77.
Travis Head will resume on 25.
In front of a 80,473 crowd – the biggest non-Ashes Boxing Day crowd since 1975 – New Zealand had Australia on the back foot in the opening session – removing Joe Burns for a golden duck in the first over – before the home side fought back in the afternoon session.
“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 Black Cap bowlers tried to bounce Smith out of the Test, but the former Australian skipper showed his ability to meet any challenge when he ducked and weaved his way to stumps.
Smith at one point complained to the umpires about them calling dead ball when he took blows to the body.
When New Zealand overpitched, he drove tremendously on a pitch he admitted he never felt in on.
“I’ve been faced with something a little bit different this series with the fields that have been set and the way they have gone about it,” Smith said.
I was happy today with the way I was able to get through it. I was able to ride a few, copped a few hits and I thought I pulled quite well from the right length.’’
If Smith reaches triple figures on Friday, he will become the first player to score centuries in five straight Tests at the MCG.
“After getting sent in, you take 4-257 at the end of the day,” Smith said.
“One more good partnership tomorrow will set the game up for us.”
Australia scored at an average of 2.85 runs per over and, after the morning session, the New Zealand bowlers were forced to work hard for their scalps.
The MCG pitch has been criticised for being too flat in recent years and three weeks ago a Sheffield Shield match was abandoned for being too dangerous.
Despite appearing to do it easy, Smith said it wasn’t an easy wicket to bat on.
“It felt like a difficult wicket, never really felt in all day,” Smith said.
“It swung all day.
“I thought there was probably a patch from the end where Colin (de Grandhomme) bowled … balls were taking off a bit.”
Smith has several partnerships as the day progressed – the first with Marnus Labuschagne, who chalked up a half-century for the fifth innings in a row.
But his pursuit of a fourth half-century of the summer ended when a de Grandhomme ball ricocheted off his elbow and on to his stumps on 63.
Already the leading Test runscorer for 2019, Labuschagne is yet to be dismissed for less than 50 this summer and has passed the milestone in nine of his past 12 innings.
His 83-run, third-wicket partnership with Smith was crucial in giving Australia control, after the early setbacks.
Left-armer Trent Boult (1-60) had produced a belter after four balls to bowl Joe Burns, swinging it in at the right-hander and nipping the ball back between bat and pad.
David Warner then edged Neil Wagner (1-40) in the opening session with his feet stuck on the crease, allowing Tim Southee to take a one-handed stunner at second slip.
Matthew Wade also edged behind, nicking one from medium pacer de Grandhomme (2-48) that swung in at him and cut away.
Boult said once the sun came out, it became hard work for the Black Caps bowlers.
“It’s turned into definitely a good surface now,” Boult said.
“When the cloud burnt off and the bright blue skies came out, it was good, old-fashioned Test cricket and we tried to stay as patient as we could.
“I don’t want to say never, but I don’t think it’s going to crack up like it did (in Perth) and open up too much.”