Australia’s Marnus Labuschagne’s stellar summer reached a new peak with his first double century before New Zealand showed great resolve on a deteriorating Sydney Cricket Ground pitch to battle its way to 63 without loss on the second day of the third Test.
Labuschagne scored 215 off 363 balls, with 19 boundaries and a six, before his epic innings was ended amidst a late order collapse by the hosts to be all out for 454 by tea on Saturday.
New Zealand openers Tom Blundell and captain Tom Latham found scoring difficult on a SCG pitch starting to show variable bounce and pace, but crucially for the tourists finished the day with their wickets intact on a hot, and at times smoky, afternoon.
Latham reached stumps unbeaten on 26, with Blundell, coming off the back of a century in Melbourne, 34 not out. Both batsmen showed patience in their stroke play and survived some frightening deliveries, especially from Pat Cummins, which unexpectedly reared up at the body.
But not for the first time this summer it was Labuschagne’s day, despite a slow crawl toward his double hundred milestone.
It took well over an hour into the middle session for Labuschagne to get the final 19 runs he needed from his 181 not out at lunch and the 25-year-old was stalled for several overs on 199 before a streaky outside edge off Colin de Grandhomme raced away for a boundary and his first double century off 346 balls.
“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.”
The world’s fourth-ranked batsman has scored 837 runs in five matches, including four centuries, this summer which is the most by any Australian over a five-Test home program, eclipsing Neil Harvey’s 834 runs in 1952-53 against South Africa.
“That’s very special, going past a player of that caliber,“ 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 second only on the record list to Don Bradman (99.94).
Skipper Tim Paine, who shared a 79-run partnership with Labuschagne, scored 35 before he was bowled by de Grandhomme (3-78) which triggered a late-order collapse for the hosts.
Astle then snared Labuschagne caught and bowled and Cummins for two, either side of Wagner bowling James Pattinson (2).
Some lusty hitting from Mitchell Starc (22) saw Australia pass 450 before Wagner (3-66) hit his middle stump to end the innings.
Resuming Saturday morning at 283-3, Australia added 71 runs for the loss of two wickets before lunch in an even session.
After making five changes for this match, four of which were for illness or injury, New Zealand’s tour took another blow with news that seamer Matt Henry had broken his thumb early on the first day and Jeet Raval had taken ill.
Henry continued to bowl as the injury is to his non-bowling hand, while Raval reappeared in the field later in the first session.
Despite the latest personnel setbacks, Saturday’s first session was New Zealand’s best in the field with spinner Will Somerville bowling Matt Wade (22) in the first over the morning, before Henry had Travis Head caught behind for 10 as they limited the hosts to 71 runs in two hours.
On Friday, Labuschagne and Steve Smith (63) combined for a 156-run partnership to swing the momentum firmly toward the hosts after Paine won the toss and batted.
Australia is seeking a clean sweep after winning the first two Tests at Perth and Melbourne.
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