Steve Smith led Australia on the opening day of the Boxing Day Test against New Zealand with an unbeaten half-century at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
It was a superb effort from Australia’s talisman against a disciplined New Zealand attack on a ‘tricky’ pitch as he patiently held one end up.
Steve Smith in Boxing Day Tests since 2015: 77*, 102*, 76, 165*, 70*, 134*— Sampath Bandarupalli (@SampathStats) December 26, 2019
624 runs in 6 innings at an average of 624! #AUSvNZ
The Kiwis will be a tad disappointed at not managing more than four wickets on the first day and will be hoping to restrict the hosts when they return to the field on Friday.
Boult and Co remove openers in the first session
There was enough grass on the wicket to influence Kane Williamson to opt to field first on winning the toss.
The returning Trent Boult landed the first blow in the opening over by castling Joe Burns with a delectable late in-swinger that swerved viciously at pace, to beat the bat and pad and crash into the stumps.
The new ball bowlers, Boult and Tim Southee were excellent in the first hour but were denied by the in-form pair of David Warner and Marnus Labuschagne.
The Australian duo were patient and did extremely well to negotiate the new ball. The change bowlers for New Zealand, Colin de Grandhomme and Neil Wagner, also bowled tightly to keep the scoring rate to just two runs per over.
Wagner removed Warner towards the end of the first session with Tim Southee pouching an extraordinary catch at first slip as the southpaw was drawn into driving at delivery away from his body.
Steve Smith, who walked in next, evoked a mixed response from the sold out MCG crowd. He had to see out a short-ball barrage from Wagner just before the Lunch interval and he even endured a few blows to the body.
The master and the apprentice deny Kiwis
In the second session, it was more smooth sailing for the hosts as the two of their best batsmen slowly took control of the match. Labuschagne blunted the bowling with some rock solid defence and put away the bad deliveries with ease.
Steve Smith, who had gone four innings without a half-century, looked in good nick and ran hard between the wickets.
The pair added 83 runs for the third wicket and Labuschagne looked set for yet another big score after reaching his sixth half-century. However, de Grandhomme broke the stand with a delivery that kicked off a good length and ricocheted off Labuschagne’s elbow and on to his stumps. It was an unfortunate end to a promising innings but a deserved reward for the hard-working medium pacer.
At the other end, Smith was unshakable, and during the course of his knock entered the top 10 of the all-time leading run scorers for Australia.
Smith Leads Aussies to safety
Matthew Wade who walked in at the fall of Labuschagne played a busy little knock before he too fell to the military medium of de Grandhomme, edging a full delivery to the keeper.
Batting at No.5, Travis Head who has hardly had a stint in the middle this summer, came in a few overs before the second new ball was taken.
Smith and Head handled the evening burst from the Kiwi pacers with ease. As the day drew to a close, the playing surface did not quite offer enough carry and the batsmen did well to play with a soft bottom hand to ensure that edges fell short of the slip cordon.
New Zealand couldn’t prize out another wicket before the end of the day’s play as the Aussies finished at 257 for four. Steve Smith later mentioned to the broadcasters that it was a tricky pitch and that he never felt set at any point during the day.
An interesting second day awaits at Melbourne.
Day 1, Stumps
Australia 257 for 4 (Smith 77*, Labuschagne 63; de Grandhomme 2-48)