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New Zealand seize early advantage bowling first vs Australia

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — New Zealand seized the early advantage after grabbing two wickets in the opening session of the second cricket test against Australia at Melbourne Cricket Ground on Thursday.

Sent in to bat on a grassy deck in overcast conditions, Australia reached 67-2 at lunch after openers Joe Burns (0) and David Warner (41) were dismissed in the pre-lunch session.

Master batsman Steve Smith, who was struck on the body several times, was unbeaten on one with Marnus Labuschagne on 23.

Fit-again quick Trent Boult struck with the fourth delivery of the match, bowling Burns for a first-ball duck.

Boult’s early breakthrough triggered a massive roar from thousands of New Zealand fans in the crowd. Incoming batsman Labuschagne, looking nervous despite having scored centuries in each of Australia’s past three test matches, played and missed twice outside off stump in Boult’s first over.

Labuschagne and Warner batted cautiously in the gloomy conditions, posting a half-century stand for the second wicket. The return of Boult to the bowling crease made life tougher for Warner, who was immediately struck in the stomach by Boult’s first delivery of his second spell at 56-1.

Warner fell for 41 in the following over with the total on 61, caught at second slip off the bowling of Neil Wagner.

Smith was hit on the gloves by a short ball from Wagner as the Black Caps kept the pressure on the Australian batsmen.

New Zealand captain Kane Williamson won the toss and was keen to exploit bowler-friendly conditions.

“There’s a lot of grass on the wicket and some overhead conditions as well so we’ll use it up first,” Williamson said.

Australia captain Tim Paine said he had been unsure what to do if he had won the toss.

“The wicket is a bit of an unknown,” Paine said.

Much interest surrounds the state of the playing surface in Melbourne. The drop-in pitch for the Ashes Test between England and Australia in 2017 was officially rated by the International Cricket Council as poor, after just 24 wickets were taken in five days. Attempts to add more moisture and life to the pitch went astray earlier this month, when a domestic four-day game between Victoria and Western Australia was abandoned on day one due to dangerous batting conditions.

Australia has not hosted New Zealand in a Boxing Day test since 1987. The opportunity to take center stage is long overdue for the New Zealand side, which is ranked No.2 in Test cricket, while Australia is fifth.

James Pattinson replaced the injured Josh Hazlewood in the only change for Australia, while Boult returns for New Zealand and Tom Blundell comes in to open the batting.

Australia leads the three-match series one-nil after claiming a 296-run win in the first test in Perth. The final match will be played in Sydney starting on January 3.

Australia has added uncapped legspinner Mitch Swepson to its squad for the Sydney test, replacing pace bowler Peter Siddle.

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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