Marnus Labuschagne extended his fine run of form as Australia's dominance of New Zealand continued in Sydney on Friday.

Labuschagne scored his fourth century in his past seven innings as Australia controlled the opening day of the third Test at the SCG.

The right-hander made an unbeaten 130, striking 12 fours and a six as the hosts – who are looking for a series sweep – reached 283-3 at stumps after deciding to bat first.

Steve Smith (63) and David Warner (45) made decent contributions, while Colin de Grandhomme (2-63) managed two breakthroughs on a difficult day for New Zealand.

The tough day started before a ball was bowled as the Black Caps made five changes, with Kane Williamson, Henry Nicholls and Mitchell Santner out through illness and Tim Southee not picked.

Losing the toss only added to their woes, but De Grandhomme did manage to land an early blow.

Joe Burns (18) edged a delivery that moved away slightly and Ross Taylor took a simple catch at first slip.

But it was an otherwise comfortable opening session for Warner and Labuschagne as Australia got to lunch at 95-1.

Needing another wicket, New Zealand found it shortly after the break, Warner pulling Neil Wagner (1-48) to De Grandhomme at leg gully.

The Black Caps managed to slow Australia's scoring, with Smith needing 39 balls to get off the mark.

Labuschagne brought up his fourth Test century during the final session with a four down leg off De Grandhomme before New Zealand wasted a review for lbw against him off Will Somerville (0-52).

De Grandhomme managed to get Smith with the second new ball – the star batsman edging to Taylor – before Matthew Wade (22) and Labuschagne got to stumps with Australia in a commanding position.

Trent Boult conceded it was "annoying" for New Zealand to only claim four wickets on day one at the MCG after they won the toss in the second Test with Australia. 

The Black Caps claimed a spectacular breakthrough in the first over when Boult found early swing to bowl Joe Burns through the gate for a golden duck.

However, Marnus Labuschagne (63) and Steve Smith (77 not out) ensured it was Australia's day, the hosts reaching 257-4 at stumps.

"Obviously we'd like another couple of wickets on that tally ... winning the toss," said Boult in a news conference.

"The overheads and the way the pitch played in the first hour or two, we tried to make the most of it, but yes, [it's] annoying not to have them a couple more down.

"I think it just turned into a good surface. Definitely when the cloud burned off and the bright blue skies came out, it was just good old-fashioned Test cricket really.

"We tried to stay as patient as we could and I suppose on the positive [side] they haven't got too far ahead of the game in terms of the run rate and runs on the board.

"We've got to come back tomorrow [Friday], hopefully get a couple [of wickets] early and see what happens."

Boult, who hailed the level of support for New Zealand in a crowd of 80,473, could at least reflect on a memorable moment due to his dismissal of Burns.

"I was actually quite nervous before the start of the match," he added. "I don't remember the first ball but it was nice to get that one kind of right, and full and straight.

"To see it swing back [and bowl Burns is great], of course, in any Test match, but with 80,000 people watching it was pretty exhilarating.

"Hopefully there's a few more of them left in the next couple of days and we can get in front here."

The prolific Smith earned praise from Boult after demonstrating plenty of patience while facing 192 balls.

"I thought he played really well - he looked to defend as many balls as he could and obviously hung in there and he's built himself a nice little innings," said the New Zealand seamer.

"He's a quality player ... when he leaves well, defends well and plays quite straight, he doesn't give you too much."

Steve Smith said he did not even notice the mixed reception he received from fans at the MCG when he walked out to bat for Australia against New Zealand on Thursday.

Smith's unbeaten 77 and 63 from Marnus Labuschagne helped Australia claim the opening-day honours in the second Test, the hosts reaching 257-4 after losing the toss.

However, a healthy contingent of Black Caps supporters in a crowd of 80,743 - a record for any day of Test cricket between Australia and New Zealand - ensured Smith was greeted by plenty of boos when he walked to the crease, even if they were largely drowned out by cheers.

Asked in a news conference if he had ever been booed walking out to bat in Australia, Smith replied: "Is that what happened? I've no idea."

He added: "I don't really listen when I walk out to bat - cheering, booing, don't know. I've learned to just block it all out, regardless, good or bad."

Smith faced plenty of short-pitched bowling during his innings and was pleased with his decision-making at the crease.

"I was happy with the way that I was able to get through it and score some runs on what I felt wasn't the easiest of wickets to bat on," he explained.

"It takes a lot of patience, just the way they [New Zealand] set the field up. There's not a whole lot you can do and it's risky to play the pull shot, with the field they've got set, particularly off the wrong length. So I thought I played that well.

"I never really felt in all day. They used some short stuff early on and I was able to get through that. I was able to ride a few, I copped a few hits.

"After getting sent in I think you'd take 4-257 at the end of the day. One more good partnership tomorrow [Friday] would be nice and set the game up for us."

Steve Smith produced a gritty performance to hand Australia the edge over New Zealand on an absorbing first day of the Boxing Day Test.

Asked to bat first on a heavily scrutinised wicket, Australia reached 257-4 on day one thanks to Smith and his unbeaten 77 at the MCG in Melbourne, where 80,473 fans were in attendance.

Just like Marnus Labuschagne's 63, it was an innings of patience from Smith, who defied New Zealand's bowlers to close in on another Test century on Thursday as Australia look to wrap up the three-Test series.

Travis Head also made it to stumps unbeaten on 25 against a New Zealand team making their first Boxing Day appearance at the MCG since 1987.

All eyes were on the MCG after a Sheffield Shield match was abandoned earlier this month due to a dangerous surface, but on the evidence of the first morning, curators rectified the issue.

After New Zealand captain Kane Williamson opted to bowl first on a wicket with thick grass coverage and overcast morning conditions, it only took spearhead Trent Boult (1-60) – back from injury – four deliveries to skittle opener Joe Burns for a duck in the first over.

Boult and Tim Southee (0-63) looked threatening with the new ball but David Warner and Labuschagne nullified the danger, preserving wickets over big scoring, until 15 minutes prior to lunch.

Black Caps paceman Neil Wagner (1-40) claimed the prized scalp of Warner for 41 – the star opener pushing out a full delivery and sending a thick edge to the diving Southee to leave Australia 61-2.

Labuschagne – who arrived in the first over – played a patient innings, cementing himself at the crease alongside former Australia captain Smith.

Spared a life following a mix-up in running with Smith as Williamson missed the stumps, Labuschagne brought up his fifth successive 50-plus score with an edge off Boult.

Labuschagne enjoyed success against Mitchell Santner (0-34), pulling a short ball for six before Smith lofted a delivery straight into the sightscreen as the Australia pair clubbed the New Zealand spinner for 17 runs in an over.

But just as Labuschagne was looking comfortable, the in-form batsman deflected a Colin de Grandhomme (2-48) delivery off his elbow and onto the stumps in the middle session before tea.

That brought Matthew Wade (38) to the crease and he renewed his battle with Wagner – the Australian managing to make it through a torrid period before the last interval.

As Smith entered Australia's top 10 of all-time leading run scorers in Test cricket thanks to his 28th Test fifty, De Grandhomme's delivery nipping away from Wade, who edged to BJ Watling.

Steve Smith will make a long-awaited Big Bash League return and AB de Villiers should ignite the Brisbane Heat in a shortened tournament with a new finals format.

Smith, the best Test batsman in the world, will feature in the competition for the first time since 2014 after rejoining the Sydney Sixers.

Maverick former South Africa batsman De Villiers will make his BBL debut for a Heat side who have been installed as bookmakers' favourites, with former Australia boss Darren Lehmann returning as head coach.

The Melbourne Renegades are expected to mount a strong challenge to retain a title they won in February with a derby defeat of Melbourne Stars, who have will Dale Steyn in their attack for six matches.

There will also be a welcome return for Glenn Maxwell, back in action for the Stars after taking a break to deal with personal mental health issues.

Here, we examine teams and players to look out for and explain changes to the schedule for the 2019-20 edition, which gets under way when the Heat face the Thunder at The Gabba on Tuesday.

 

FINALS REVAMP PART OF SCHEDULE CHANGE

There were calls for change due to dwindling crowds in an eighth edition of the tournament that dragged on too long.

Cricket Australia has taken note of criticism, reducing the length of the competition from 54 to 42 days and revamping the finals format.

There will be 15 days with two matches played in order to cut the length of the BBL.

Five of the eight teams will reach the finals rather than four, with the sides in first and second place at the end of the regular season having two chances to reach the final.

 

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER FOR SMITH

Sixers fans have had to wait a long time to see Smith in their side and they will have to hope his arrival does not come when their title chances are over.

The former Australia captain, part of the Sixers squad that won the inaugural Big Bash in January 2012, will not be available until the back end of the competition due to Australia commitments.

Josh Hazlewood is also scheduled to join the Sixers after featuring for Australia following the Test series against New Zealand and ODIs in India, with the hope he will be fully fit after suffering a hamstring injury in the first Test against the Black Caps.

 

MARSH AND NEW COACH CAN HELP RENEGADES KLING ON TO TITLE

Michael Klinger took over as Renegades coach after Andrew McDonald was appointed Australia assistant coach in October.

McDonald will be a hard act to follow, but the addition of batsman Shaun Marsh is a big coup for the defending champions.

Disciplined bowling was key to their maiden BBL triumph and they have managed to retain left-arm seamer Harry Gurney, while big things will be expected of Kane Richardson once again.

 

HEAT SHOULD WARM TO THE TASK UNDER LEHMANN

Brisbane handed Lehmann his first role coaching role since he quit as Australia boss following the Newlands ball-tampering scandal in March 2018. Lehmann was cleared of involvement in that ploy.

Lehmann, who replaces Daniel Vettori, oversaw the Heat's 2012-13 Big Bash title success and it would be no surprise if he celebrates a repeat.

De Villiers will make his debut for Brisbane, while explosive England batsman Tom Banton, Ben Laughlin, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Zahir Khan are also exciting additions.

Tim Paine knows Australia cannot afford to simply rely on Steve Smith to hold together innings after they prevailed in the first Test against New Zealand despite another disappointing batting performance from their Ashes hero.

Australia prevailed by 296 runs in Perth after a dominant display in a game Smith contributed little to with the bat.

Smith scored 43 in the first innings and could add only 16 in the second, though Australia still built a lead of 467 despite his relative struggles.

New Zealand were bowled out for 171 in pursuit of 468, the win marking Australia's third successive triumph after a whitewash of Pakistan in which Smith managed just 40 runs across two innings.

Performances of the ridiculous standards he produced in the drawn Ashes series with England, in which he scored a mammoth 774 runs in four Tests, have not been required recently as the likes of David Warner and Marnus Labuschagne have flourished.

Asked about his side's batting, captain Paine told reporters: "At the end of the Ashes, we needed other guys to stand up... [we] can't be just reliant on Steve.

"That's what we are going to have to do to be one of the better teams in the world.

"I think certainly over the last 18 months there has been drastic improvement in this cricket team.

"We're moving in the right direction and happy the way we've played the last three tests. We're still improving and getting better."

The opening match of the three-game series was marked by both attacks sending down a barrage of short balls.

"We were just having a laugh when we were bowling at their tail that it's going to be a bit of bodyline for a lot of the series," Paine said.

"They're very skilled at executing that [short] ball and they set great fields for it. So it's a completely different challenge to what you get from other teams."

Steve Smith produced a stunning one-handed catch to remove Kane Williamson on the second day of Australia's first Test against New Zealand, though Mitchell Starc always expected his brilliant team-mate to take the chance.

Starc finished with 4-31 from 11 overs at stumps as the Black Caps were reduced to 109-5 in reply to Australia's first-innings total of 416.

While Ross Taylor will resume on 66 not out on Saturday, Australia have already got the key wicket of Williamson, who fell for 34 when Starc and Smith combined in spectacular fashion.

Former Australia captain Smith flung out his right hand to take a remarkable diving grab at second slip, not that the bowler of the delivery shared the crowd's amazement.

"Unfortunately for him, you sort of expect that from Steve," Starc explained to reporters.

"He's done that a few times. It was fantastic to create that buzz in the crowd and certainly out on the ground for us.

"The big wicket of Kane - being the captain as well - to hang onto him was a big moment in tonight's session.

"It was a fantastic catch, and it's always nice to see the boys hang on."

Starc added: "It happens pretty quick. It was a special grab.

"He's such a good player, whether it be with bat or in the field, you almost, unfortunately for him, expect that he's going to hold onto those nine times out of 10."

It was not all plain sailing for the hosts, who lost Josh Hazlewood to a suspected hamstring injury after he had bowled just eight balls - one of which clattered into opener Jeet Raval's stumps.

The extent of Hazlewood's problem is due to be confirmed on Saturday, with Starc already facing up to the possibility of Australia being one bowler down for at least the remainder of this Test.

"It's never nice seeing anyone go down, especially one of your best mates," Starc added.

"I'm not sure how those scans have come back, hopefully there's some positivity out of that. I guess it makes it tough now with a bowler down. It was for the Kiwis with [Lockie] Ferguson going down.

"The plus side is we've got them five down tonight and hopefully for Josh it's not too bad and, if it is going to keep him out for the rest of the week, it's not too big a break to get that hammy right."

Starc shone with the pink ball in the day-night Test, though admitted he still prefers all-day matches.

Asked whether he wanted all Tests to be day-night encounters given his performance, Starc replied: "Nope. Don't overdo it, I'd say.

"It's great for cricket but I'm still a traditionalist at heart. Don't take too many away from the red-ball game."

Mitchell Starc put Australia in command in the absence of Josh Hazlewood while Steve Smith took a sensational catch to leave New Zealand in big trouble on day two of the first Test.

Marnus Labuschagne fell for 143 after making his third consecutive Test century on the opening day at Perth Stadium, and Travis Head struck 56 in Australia's 416 all out.

Neil Wagner (4-92) and Tim Southee (4-93) stepped up again with Black Caps debutant Lockie Ferguson unable bowl due to a calf injury sustained on Thursday.

New Zealand lost both openers inside two overs of their reply, but their trans-Tasman rivals suffered a big blow when Hazlewood ambled off with a suspected hamstring injury after dismissing Jeet Raval. 

Starc came to the fore late in the day-night contest on Friday, Smith diving to remove Williamson (34) in spectacular fashion as the left-arm paceman took 4-31 to reduce the tourists to 109-5 at stumps.

Ross Taylor will resume on Saturday unbeaten on 66 with New Zealand trailing by 307 and BJ Watling yet to get off the mark.

Labuschagne put away a couple of glorious drives after Australia resumed on 248-4, but Wagner ended his fifth-wicket stand of 76 with Travis Head by bowling the in-form number three around his legs.

Head looked in great touch in a positive knock, finding the boundary frequently before driving Southee to Mitchell Santner in the covers.

The Black Caps bowled with discipline after lunch, and Raval, used more than he would have anticipated in the absence of Ferguson, dismissed Pat Cummins for 20.

Starc added a brisk 30, smashing Santner for six over long-on, and captain Tim Paine a patient 39 before both were dismissed by Southee, with Australia all out on the stroke of tea.

New Zealand got off to a nightmare start to their reply under the lights, Tom Latham caught and bowled by Starc without scoring in the first over and Hazlewood cleaning up Raval with only his fourth ball.

Taylor joined Williamson at the crease with the tourists in the mire on 1-2, and they would have been relieved to see Hazlewood walk off after pulling up in his second over.

The current and former captain had to contend with some hostile short stuff from Cummins and Starc, but they weathered the storm under pressure and Taylor struck Nathan Lyon for three boundaries in an over.

There was no review from Australia when Williamson appeared to feather Cummins behind, but Smith took off to his right to grab a stunning one-handed catch to remove the prolific skipper - ending a stand of 76.

Although Taylor brought up a hard-earned half-century, Starc strangled Henry Nicholls caught behind down the leg side and generated late swing to bowl nightwatchman Wagner first ball in a great spell to leave New Zealand on the ropes.

Steve Smith is backing Melbourne Cricket Ground curator Matt Page to deliver an acceptable wicket for the Boxing Day Test between Australia and New Zealand.

The final match at the MCG before that contest - the Sheffield Shield clash between Victoria and Western Australia - had to be cancelled on Saturday due to an unsafe pitch.

Umpires called off day one after Western Australia batsmen Shaun Marsh and Marcus Stoinis were struck multiple times amid unpredictable bounce.

Cricket Australia promised to ensure there is a wicket of "international standard" for December 26, though, and Smith has no doubt Page will do the necessary hard work.

"I'm sure they'll produce something good for us on Boxing Day," the Australia superstar said ahead of the first Test in Perth this week.

"It's a really fine line with that wicket. Pagey is a very good curator - he'll be working as hard as he can to try to get a wicket that is suitable for bat and ball.

"These guys have a really tough job. They've tried a lot down in Melbourne but not been able to get something that is a bit more bowler friendly.

"They're going to work hard over the next couple of weeks to get us a good wicket for Boxing Day."

Virat Kohli has returned to the top of the batting list in the ICC Test Player Rankings ahead of Steve Smith, whose Australia team-mate David Warner is back in the first five.

Smith struggled for form in Australia's dominant series win over Pakistan and, having scored only 36 runs in the second Test in Adelaide, saw his points drop from 931 to 923.

Conversely, India skipper Kohli scored 136 in the day-night Test against Bangladesh and returned to the summit on 928 points.

Warner rose an impressive 12 places to fifth after making a sensational 335 against Pakistan, while fellow Aussie Marnus Labuschagne makes the top 10 for the first time in his career.

England captain Joe Root is back in the top 10 having slipped out last week. He climbs to seventh after a sublime 226 versus New Zealand in the drawn second Test.

Steve Smith has denied suggestions he was trying to undermine Australia captain Tim Paine in the second Test against Pakistan.

Australia earned a resounding innings-and-48-run victory over Pakistan in Adelaide to seal a 2-0 series triumph.

However, Smith – who was replaced by Paine after being banned for his role in the Newlands ball-tampering scandal last year – was accused by ex-skipper Ian Chappell of making field adjustments without first talking to his captain.

Speaking on Macquarie Sports Radio when calling the Test, Chappell said: "I tell you what I don't like to see, Steve Smith is moving a few fieldsmen around.

"He did have a chat with Tim Paine, trying to talk Tim Paine into moving a fielder on the off-side, but I'm not sure Tim Paine moved him as far as Steve Smith wanted.

"Steve Smith started moving him, I hate to see that. England used to do it a bit, blokes other than the captain and I always felt it was white-anting the captain."

Smith, though, insists his intentions were good and his only aim was to try to help the team.

"Look I only try to help Tim as much as I can, you know," he told Channel Nine. 

"He's doing a terrific job. But I give him suggestions and things like that, I only want the team to do well, I'm certainly not undermining him."

Smith was uncharacteristically out of touch with the bat, scoring just 40 runs across the two Tests but, while disappointed on a personal level, was happy to see the team perform to such a high standard.

"I always hate not being out there doing it myself but it's great to see the boys out there play so well and get us two great victories," Smith added.

Out-of-sorts England captain Joe Root has fallen out of the ICC's top 10 Test batting rankings, while Virat Kohli has closed the gap on Steve Smith at the top.

Root was ranked the world's best five-day batsman four years ago and had been in the top 10 since August 2014.

However, he has struggled for runs of late and made just 13 across two innings in England's heavy first Test defeat to New Zealand.

Smith, who made only four in Australia's recent win over Pakistan, remains at the top of the rankings, though his lead over Kohli is just three points following the India captain's 27th century against Bangladesh.

Kohli is one of four Indians in the top 10 - along with Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Mayank Agarwal - while New Zealand trio Kane Williamson, Henry Nicholls and Tom Latham also feature alongside Sri Lanka's Dimuth Karunaratne and England all-rounder Ben Stokes.

Pat Cummins is still top of the bowling rankings for the longest format, with Black Caps left-armer Neil Wagner up to third thanks to his match figures of 8-134 in the win over England.

The Hundred's inaugural fixture will be between Oval Invincibles and Welsh Fire next July and could feature Steve Smith, Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow.

The first contest of the England and Wales Cricket Board's (ECB) new 100-ball competition will take place on July 17 at The Oval, it was announced on Tuesday.

That match will see the Invincibles, whose squad features England internationals Roy, Sam Curran and Tom Curran, host Welsh Fire, who have Australians Smith and Mitchell Starc, as well as England duo Bairstow and Tom Banton.

On Saturday July 18, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Aaron Finch might all feature when Manchester Originals entertain Northern Superchargers, while Birmingham Phoenix meet London Spirit at Edgbaston.

Jofra Archer's Southern Brave's first fixture is against Welsh Fire in Cardiff on July 19, the same day Joe Root and Rashid Khan could debut for Trent Rockets against Birmingham.

Each of the eight teams have eight league fixtures as they play their designated 'rivals' home and away and every other franchise once.

The team that finish top of the league will advance to the final, where they will meet the winner of a clash between the sides that finish second and third.

Misbah-ul-Haq says Pakistan's pace attack must hit Steve Smith's "blind spot" if they are to prevent Australia's "batting genius" from piling on the runs in the two-match Test series.

Smith averaged an astonishing 110.57 in a drawn Ashes series in England on his return to the Test stage after serving a one-year ban for his part in the Newlands ball-tampering scandal.

The former captain will be the prized scalp for Pakistan when they attempt to secure a first series win in Australia in the longest format.

Misbah wants to see his formidable fast bowlers frustrate the top-ranked Test batsman in the world when the series gets under way at the Gabba on Thursday.

The Pakistan head coach said: "As far as Steve Smith goes, there's a blind spot for every top batsman in the world; as a bowler you're always interested in pitching the ball there.

"It's important that we bowl with consistency there. Our bowlers are executing the plans very well right now, and hopefully we'll be able to build that kind of a pressure and stay disciplined, especially early in the innings.

"No matter how good a batsman is batting, it's about consistency and bowling the maximum balls in those areas that build pressure and the batsman respects you, and you force him to make a mistake.

"All the batsmen you talk to, any batsman in the world, that's the area where you have to defend a ball, and that is a six-to-eight-metre spot where you have to play the top of off stump.

"That's the area from where if it's happening then that creates a great chance. Even if it's not happening, you have less chances to do anything with the ball.

"It's about consistency, and top players in the world, if you miss those areas, that special length and line, then they are good enough to just cash in on that.

"You have to be very, very disciplined, just keep the ball there, and if it's happening you are already in the game."

The former Pakistan captain added:  "The kind of form he is in, there's no doubt Steve Smith is a batting genius. We will try our best to execute our plans and dismiss him."

 

Key Opta facts

- Pakistan have lost their last two multi-game bilateral Test series, they have not lost more consecutive series in the format since losing all three they competed in across 2007.

- Pat Cummins' tally of 87 Test wickets is more than any other bowler has taken since the start of 2018.

-  Australia are undefeated in their last 30 Tests at the Gabba - winning 23 of those matches. Their last defeat at the Brisbane venue was against West Indies in 1988.

Steve Smith insists there are no hard feelings towards West Indies batsman Nicholas Pooran despite his relatively lenient four-match ban for ball tampering.

Australia's skipper at the time, Smith, along with vice-captain David Warner and team-mate Cameron Bancroft, received a long suspension for his role in the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa in March 2018.

Smith and Warner did not play for a year following sanctions handed out by Cricket Australia, with Bancroft returning after nine months.

Meanwhile, Pooran, who admitted to changing the condition of the ball in a one-dayer against Afghanistan, will miss four games after being punished by the International Cricket Council.

The Windies will soon have Pooran available again, but Smith would prefer not to reflect upon the contrasting punishments.

"Everyone is different, every [cricket] board is different with the way they deal with certain issues," Smith said. "For me, I copped it on the chin. It is what it is.

"I don't feel hard done by. It was a long time ago now. I've moved past it and I'm focusing on the present.

"I know Nicholas, I've played a bit of cricket with him, and he's a talented player and someone with a bright future.

"I think he'll learn from his mistake and move past it. I think he's going to be an exceptional player in white-ball cricket."

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