A wrestle of a fourth day moved the first Test between Australia and New Zealand gradually towards its conclusion, as Australia had to make do without the bowling of captain Pat Cummins in a contest where bat continued to have the better of ball.
Marnus Labuschagne completed twin centuries in taking Australia to a declaration at 182-2, setting West Indies five sessions to survive and a runs target of 498. A 116-run opening partnership got the visitors going, which West Indies captain Kraigg Brathwaite turned into a century of his own just before stumps. He had kept his team hanging on at 192-3.
West Indies started the day promisingly, with fast bowler Alzarri Joseph producing his most threatening spell of the match. He added 10kph to his speed readings from the first innings, coupled with a short-pitched attack that David Warner handled with more poise than Labuschagne.
Australia’s No 3 edged one Joseph bouncer for an accidental six, then another into his helmet for a ricochet catch to gully. But with the batter on 19, replays showed a millimetre of space between the bowler’s heel and the paint of the front crease.
Having added to a long career of reprieves, Labuschagne added to a lengthening career of runs. The fire went out of the West Indies attack as quickly as it had kindled. Attrition took a toll: Kyle Mayers was ruled out of bowling with a sore shoulder, Kemar Roach left the contest with a leg problem after bowling three overs, Jayden Seales looked jaded, and Jason Holder went for treatment before returning.
Warner was caught at short leg off Roston Chase’s spin for 48, but Steve Smith rejoined Labuschagne. As in the first innings, there was soon a sense of the visitors waiting for Australia to decide it was over.
That moment came at the lunch break, by which time Smith had 20 not out and Labuschagne had an unbeaten 104 to pair with his 204 in the first innings.
He grew in aggression as the break and the milestone approached in tandem, targeting Holder’s length and hitting Chase for a big straight six. Only seven players had made a century alongside a double century in the same match: one of them, Brian Lara, was watching from the commentary box. Kumar Sangakkara, Sunil Gavaskar, Graeme Gooch, Greg Chappell, Doug Walters or Lawrence Rowe could all have switched on the television to catch a glimpse.
With Cummins advised not to bowl with a sore quad muscle, Australia had reason to be grateful that Cameron Green was there to back up Starc and Josh Hazlewood. The main pair started well, but Tagenerine Chanderpaul against impressed on debut, showing great temperament in leaving outside his off stump, while happily taking on the pull shot when available. He batted through the second session unscathed, eventually edging Starc back onto the stumps while trying to cut. He had survived 126 balls for 45, after making 51 in his first innings.
By that point Brathwaite had passed 50, having started slowly but growing more adventurous especially against Nathan Lyon and Green. He lost Shamarh Brooks along the way, who nicked Lyon’s straight ball to slip, but Brathwaite’s sweep shot against the spinner was his main weapon as he moved towards three figures. Fittingly that was how he raised his milestone, leaping in celebration among the shadows over the pitch, losing his bat, trying to fetch it for a salutation before racing back to his ground as Lyon joked at a run-out attempt.
Still, Lyon got his own moment of celebration two balls later, using the bounce of the Perth surface to have Jermaine Blackwood edging to short leg for 24. Taking an absurd one-hander low to the ground was of course none other than Labuschagne. The final strike tilted things firmly in favour of Australia, with a sore Mayers to resume on the final day and the all-rounders to follow him, while Cummins may return to bowling after a night’s rest. But with Brathwaite still there on 101, and the pitch playing well with 306 runs required to win, West Indies might as well dream a little. Australia will sleep much more soundly.