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New Zealand keep up pressure in tight second session

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Australia lost the crucial wicket of Marnus Labuschagne in the post-lunch session as New Zealand maintained the pressure on the home side on day one of the second test on Thursday.

At tea, Australia was 155-3 after being sent in to bat on a grassy pitch in overcast conditions at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Australia had reached 67-2 at lunch in front of a crowd of more than 75,000. Openers Joe Burns (0) and David Warner (41) departed in the first session.

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

World No.5-ranked batsman Labuschagne nervously played and missed from the first two balls he faced before adding 60 for the second wicket with Warner.

New Zealand scored a second important breakthrough soon before lunch when Warner was caught at second slip off the bowling of Neil Wagner at 61-2.

Australia didn't reach 100 runs until the 41st over, such was New Zealand's dominance. New Zealand aimed a series of short balls at Steve Smith who was struck several times. The determined Smith shared an 83-run stand with Labuschagne.

After scoring centuries in Australia’s past three test matches, Labuschagne played a patient knock of 63 before being bowled by medium-pacer Colin de Grandhomme at 144-3, having offered no shot. Labuschagne was struck on the elbow, before the ball crashed into the stumps.

Smith was unbeaten on 41 at tea, while new batsman Matthew Wade (7 not out) had already been struck on the chest.

Wade had adopted a curious policy of taking balls on the body rather than playing the pull shot in the first test in Perth against Wagner’s bowling. Their battle continued on Thursday.

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 bounce and sideways movement 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.

Fifth-ranked Australia has not hosted second-ranked New Zealand in a Boxing Day Test match since 1987.

Thursday’s action attracted a crowd of over 75,000, which beats the previous record for a non-Ashes test of 73,812 on day one of Australia’s test against South Africa at Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1997.

James Pattinson replaced the injured Josh Hazlewood in the only change for Australia, while Boult returned for New Zealand and Tom Blundell came 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.

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