Stumps Australia 4 for 248 (Labuschagne 110*, Warner 43, Smith 43, Wagner 2-52) v New Zealand
A hat-trick of Test hundreds for Marnus Labuschagne, sealed with a straight six, belied an otherwise fascinating battle between Australia's batting order and New Zealand's skilful and diligent attack, even as it was shorn of Lockie Ferguson by a calf strain that may cause increasing pain for the visitors the longer the Perth day-night Test goes on.
In front of a crowd of 19,084 who huddled in what shaded areas they could find on a day when temperatures hovered near 40C until the sun went down, New Zealand gave an exceptional account of themselves in the absence of Trent Boult and despite the looming threats of David Warner and Steven Smith.
Both Warner, before lunch, and Smith in a lengthy partnership with the ebullient Labuschagne, had some influence on proceedings. But in each case the tourists' discipline, fitness and commitment to the plans hatched by their captain Kane Williamson ensured that neither Warner nor Smith could get away from them. In Smith's case it meant one of his slowest Test innings, ended in the leg trap that the unstinting Neil Wagner has set for so many international batsmen over a career that has surprised in much the same way Labuschagne's now is.
Warner had earlier seen a promising start ended by a superlative caught and bowled from Wagner, who alongside Colin de Grandomme, Tim Southee and Ferguson formed a typically diligent New Zealand attack - something all the more admirable in the prevailing conditions.
Williamson was unable to pick Trent Boult as he continues his recovery from a side strain suffered against England, meaning a debut for the speedy Ferguson. Australia were unchanged for the third match in a row. They have not lost a series at home to New Zealand since 1985.
Warner made his intent known by hustling a single from Tim Southee's first ball of the match, and while Ferguson neared 150kph in his first over, his lines and lengths were variable enough to allow scoring opportunities for both openers. Southee's frustration at not finding an early wicket was demonstrated when he hurled a solidly defended ball back at Joe Burns, prompting an exchange with Warner who rebuked him as "you're supposed to be Mr Nice Guy".
Ferguson's replacement by Wagner and the introduction of de Grandhomme brought some more pertinent questions for Burns and Warner, as the run-rate was clamped. De Grandhomme's first ball to Burns was not the away swinger he evidently expected but a nip backer that won an lbw verdict from umpire Aleem Dar, even through ball-tracking would show the ball comfortably missing leg stump as Burns was batting well forward of his crease.
Labuschagne settled in quickly enough, but as tea beckoned, Warner misjudged a Wagner change-up and was on his way, allowing Steven Smith his earliest entry to the Test batting crease this summer. Warner had looked set to maintain his commanding run of form this summer, but six minutes before the interval he scooped back a low full toss to Wagner, who claimed the chance inches from the ground with his right hand as he followed through.
Runs did not accrue easily when play resumed, to the extent that both Smith and Labuschagne could be seen trying to force a few shots that did not necessarily lend themselves to the types of questions they were being asked. Wagner's angles and preference for the short ball posed challenges for both batsmen, while Ferguson had Smith flirting with balls well wide of the off stump, breaking 149kph every now and then and gaining plenty of bounce from the surface also.
Labuschagne strode to an eighth score of 50 or more in Test matches this year, but Smith's inability to turn the scoreboard over ultimately drew an outside edge from Ferguson. Maddeningly for New Zealand, Tom Latham picked up the chance late and could only throw his hands to the left as the ball burst through them. Australia were thus able to get through to the final, floodlit session with eight wickets in the bank and two formidable players at the crease.
Things got worse for the visitors when they advised early in the final session that Ferguson had gone to hospital for scans on a calf problem. The mere fact that they were required suggesting he may well be out of the match and perhaps the whole, tightly-packed series also. With Labuschagne quickly closing on a century and Smith straining to break his shackles, this was a moment in which many sides would have flagged, but Williamson was able to conjure further efforts from his men, aided perhaps by cooler evening temperatures.
While Labuschagne advanced to loft Mitchell Santner beyond long-on for only the second six of his career to leap from 95 to a joyous 101, Wagner was not deterred from his attempts to corral Smith, and he was ultimately rewarded with a distracted attempt at a hook shot and a miscue lobbing gently to Southee at leg gully. Smith was furious with himself, but the pressure had built over 164 balls - a volume of deliveries by which time he had usually passed three figures in England.
Better tidings arrived for New Zealand when Southee took the second new ball and bent an inswinger around Matthew Wade's front pad to flick the off stump as the left-hander shouldered arms to his immediate regret.
Four wickets down with 47 deliveries left in the evening, made for a queasy sort of session as far as Australia were concerned, as underlined by how Labuschagne was troubled more than once to pick up the line of the ball. But Travis Head was able to survive a few nervous moments to keep Labuschagne company up to the close, even if the No. 3 offered Wagner an airy upper cut in the final over that fell slightly short and wide of third man. Australia know they have been in a fight; they have enough batting left to land some major blows on day two.