New Zealand face a huge task to prevent defeat in the first cricket Test against Australia in Perth.

Marnus Labuschagne and Joe Burns notched half-centuries before New Zealand’s unflagging attack yielded late wickets, but Australia had built a near insurmountable lead of 417 by stumps on day three of the first test on Saturday.

Australia reached the close at 167 for six with Matthew Wade on eight and Pat Cummins on one. New Zealand quicks Neil Wagner and Tim Southee shared the spoils with six wickets between them.

Australia suffered a late collapse but remain in a strong position. The highest successful run chase in test history is 418, achieved by the West Indies against Australia in 2003.

“Bit disappointing to lose wickets tonight but in the grand scheme of the game we are in a good position and in control,” Burns told reporters.

Burns (53) and Labuschagne, who has now passed 1,000 test runs in 2019, did the bulk of the heavy lifting in an 87-run partnership.

South Africa-born Labuschagne’s bid for a fourth straight test century ended when he mistimed a pull short on 50 off Wagner, who persevered with aggressive short-pitched bowling.

Australia’s tactical approach to bat carefully and set New Zealand a big target was exemplified by Burns, who did not score until the 25th delivery he faced. His patient knock, however, ended when he was undone by a searing short delivery from Southee.

Steve Smith, who scored a massive 774 runs in the Ashes tournament in England this year, fell shortly before stumps for 16 to continue a recent barren run.

David Warner, who passed 7,000 test runs, was Australia’s sole loss in the middle session after he miscued a pull shot off Southee on 19. His sluggish 63-ball innings was in contrast to his majestic unbeaten 335 in the last test against Pakistan in Adelaide.

Even though they lost late wickets, Australia’s commanding performance gave them a stranglehold on the day-night contest. The hosts gained a sizeable 250-run first innings lead after bowling New Zealand out cheaply on the stroke of tea.

New Zealand, in reply to Australia’s first innings 416, were dismissed for a tame 166 with veteran Ross Taylor playing a lone hand with 80.

Mitchell Starc claimed his second five-wicket haul in as many tests after missing most of the recent Ashes series.

He led a disciplined attack which was short-handed after Josh Hazlewood was ruled out of the Perth test having suffered a hamstring injury on day two.

Taylor acknowledged that New Zealand faced a daunting prospect with widening cracks marking the Perth Stadium pitch.

“It’s going to be tough but the strength of the side over the last few years has been the fighting spirit,” he said.

Both teams are without a paceman after debutant New Zealand quick Lockie Ferguson, himself a replacement for injured spearhead Trent Boult, damaged his calf on day one.

Oppressive weather conditions continued for the third straight day as the temperature peaked at 41 degrees Celsius.

New Zealand have only won one test in Australia since their sole series triumph across the Tasman Sea in 1985-86.


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