Ashes: Marnus Labuschagne hits unbeaten 95 as England rue dropped catches on day one in Adelaide

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·4-min read
Ashes: Marnus Labuschagne hits unbeaten 95 as England rue dropped catches on day one in Adelaide
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  • Pat Cummins
    Pat Cummins
    International cricketer
  • David Warner
    David Warner
    Australian cricketer
  • Stuart Broad
    English cricketer (born 1986)

They say day-night Tests come to life when darkness falls. This one will do well to top the drama of the night before, when Pat Cummins found himself sat next to someone in a restaurant who learned he had tested positive for Covid after landing in Adelaide. Australia’s skipper was forced into mandatory isolation for seven days.

Cummins was desperately unlucky; there were 24 new Covid cases in South Australia yesterday, and — while operating within the rules in place for the series — he happened to find one of them. And Cummins is not any old cricketer involved in this game. He is Australia’s new skipper, as well as one of the world’s top-ranked Test bowlers.

But Australia might reflect they were lucky. Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon were at the very same restaurant, but because they sat outside, they were free to play. Given Josh Hazlewood was already missing with a side strain, eating with a roof over their head could have denied Australia their entire attack.

Cummins was replaced in the team by Michael Neser, the debutant who was handed his cap by Glenn McGrath. The Aussie pace great was a strangely fitting choice, and not because he was another relentlessly accurate right-arm fast-medium bowler. In 2005, with Australia 1-0 up in the Ashes, McGrath was ruled out of the Second Test in freakish circumstances, stepping on a ball in the Edgbaston warm-up.

That day, everything went England’s way, and they racked up 407 to turn the series on its head. This time? Not so much. Australia got just what they needed; an opening day’s action that did not set tongues wagging like the morning that preceded it. The supply of theatrics had been exhausted.

Steve Smith, back as skipper in a quietly significant moment, won the toss and batted — obviously. And it was a good sign for Smith that, from No4, he did not find himself at the crease until well into the final session. It was an even better sign that he was still there at stumps.

Thanks to David Warner, out for 95 (one more than he managed in Brisbane, and the equal of his tally for the entire 2019 Ashes), and Marnus Labuschagne, 95 not out stumps, Australia had built a strong position, losing just two wickets, despite what must have been an uncomfortable morning. They should benefit tomorrow, when temperatures are tipped to touch 40 degrees, and England are still flailing around in the field.

With the tone set by an opening session that brought just 45 runs, it was a slow old day. England made a fine start, with James Anderson and Stuart Broad, both recalled, proving desperately difficult to score off for either Australian opener.

Warner’s opening partner, Marcus Harris, came and went without trace again. With a trap well set, Harris pulled Broad down the legside, where Jos Buttler took an excellent diving catch, to depart for only three. By then, Harris had survived being given out lbw to Broad, who today became just the 10th player to appear in 150 Tests. Harris has just 73 runs in nine innings against England.

Warner, battling a rib injury, survived reviews on 0 (Broad) and one (Chris Woakes), and took 42 minutes and 24 balls to get off the mark. But he knew things would become easier, and they duly did in the afternoon session, when both he and Labuschagne passed 50 at a sedate speed.

England did not bowl poorly and they beat the bat regularly, just as they did in Adelaide four years ago (when they were also a touch short). But they did not really threaten Australia and, having left out Mark Wood’s pace and Jack Leach’s spin in favour of five right-arm bowlers who operate in the 80mph mark, lacked much oomph or variety. They tried some funky fields when Ben Stokes banged the ball in, but did not get much return.

That was until Warner, just starting to motor, picked out cover. It was the much-anticipated twilight period when Smith entered the fray, but Stokes was banging the ball in short and, in what felt peculiar tactics, Root’s off-spin replaced him to up the over-rate.

England took the new ball with 35 minutes’ play remaining and just about in the game. Inevitably, they created a chance but, just as in their error-strewn display in Brisbane, put it down. Anderson drew the edge of Labuschagne, on 95, and Buttler dropped a scarcely believable chance. It was the second life he had given him; on 21, he had shelled one down the legside off Stokes.

With that drop, the opportunity and optimism of England’s morning had evaporated entirely.

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