Australia resumes day three of the third Test against New Zealand on Sunday safe in the knowledge it has discovered a young batsman that appears to have long-standing records in his sights.
Marnus Labuschagne hit a career-high 215 on Saturday as Australia were bowled out for 454 at the SCG in extreme heat, before New Zealand fought back to be 0-63 at stumps.
The Black Caps had arguably their best day of the summer as they took 7-171 with the ball and openers Tom Latham and Tom Blundell whittled the deficit down to 391 runs.
Still, NZ’s luckless summer continued with news that pace bowler Matt Henry had broken his thumb, while recalled batsman Jeet Raval went down with the flu-like virus that has swept the touring side.
Henry has bowled through the pain barrier after trying stop a Joe Burns drive on day one because the blow affected his non-bowling hand.
However, the handy tailender may not bat if Australia continue to dominate a one-sided three-match series.
It wasn’t all good news for Australia either, with Matthew Wade set to undergo a concussion test on Sunday morning before being cleared to play on day four.
Wade was struck hard on his helmet grille while fielding at short-leg when Labuschagne was bowling to Tom Latham.
Labuschagne and Latham both rushed to check on Wade’s welfare and satyed on the field for the final few overs of the day.
“It’s never nice,” Labuschagne told reporters. I’ve been hit there plenty of times, so I know the feeling.
“It’s never nice when you’re the bowler – drag one down first ball, right in the slot. Luckily, he’s alright and everything is all good. It is never good.”
The International Cricket Council introduced concussion substitutes last year, allowing teams to replace a player knocked out mid-Test.
Labuschagne was the first beneficiary of the rule, having replaced Steve Smith in Australia’s XI at Lord’s last year after the former skipper was struck by a Jofra Archer bouncer and suffered a delayed concussion.
The right-hander has since gone on from strength to strength and on Saturday hit his fourth triple-figure score of the summer.
That took his tally for the Test season to 837 runs, the most by any Australian for a five-Test home program.
In the process he broke a 67-year-old record, eclipsed Neil Harvey’s prolific summer in 1952-53 against South Africa.
“That’s very special, going past a player of that calibre,” Labuschagne said. “It’s hard because, when you’re midway through a game or series, you don’t have time to reflect on the summer that you’ve had.
It’s been a very special summer but I think what makes it even more special is the camaraderie of this team.”
The innings also helped his career average to 63.63, above Steve Smith’s 62.84 and into second on the record list behind Sir Don Bradman.
Labuschagne was chanceless in his 519 minutes at the crease, only showing signs of fatigue late before he was caught and bowled by spinner Todd Astle (2-111).
Dominant off his pads on day one, he was strong on Saturday on the drive down the ground and through the covers.
He showed he was human with nerves as he neared 200, spending 20 minutes on 199 before he edged Colin de Grandhomme through the vacant slips cordon for four.
“You do get nervous,” Labuschagne said. “You probably don’t get nervous as you would on 99. I don’t know why. But that’s just the feeling.
“When you’re in the 190s, for me it’s just about not doing something silly.
“I was on 195, I played a charge, he (Latham) dragged it down and I went for a slog sweep and it went for one.”
It came as New Zealand’s tour from hell threatened to go from bad to worse before their late fightback.
Scans confirmed paceman Matt Henry had suffered a broken thumb on day one and, while he bowled on, there was no guarantee he would bat.
Jeet Raval joined Kane Williamson, Henry Nicholls and Mitchell Santner in the sick bay, sitting out the first hour of play.
That even prompted batting coach Peter Fulton to wear the whites, running the drinks and ready to act as a substitute fielder if required.
But on the field, they toiled hard under Sydney’s hazy skies, with de Grandhomme finishing with 3-78 and adding captain Tim Paine (35) to his first-day scalps of Joe Burns and Steve Smith.
Matthew Wade (22) and Travis Head (10) threw away opportunities to make big runs when they went in the opening session.
Neil Wagner took 3-66, before Blundell (34no) and Latham (26no) did well to survive to stumps on a pitch that showed signs of uneven bounce.