The Ashes | Day-Night Test, Day 1: Restrained Labuschagne, Warner make England pay for lost chances

Mayank Kumar

Mayank Kumar

Author| Dec 16, 1:00 PM

Image: Twitter
Image: Twitter

The widely anticipated second Test of the Ashes series got off to an anti-climatic start for both sides. The hosts were forced to scramble to hand over the captaincy to Steve Smith after a gap of four years as Pat Cummins got came in close contact with a Covid-19 infected person. Such was the level of shock to both the Australian camp and Smith himself that he walked out wearing Cummins’s blazer while walking out for the toss. 

On the other hand, the tourists had to live with the harsh and contrasting realities of bowling with Pink ball than what was being made out in the public. The wise old man in James Anderson had warned his teammates against unrealistic expectations from the pink ball and he too had to toil hard throughout the day to see all of his feared predictions come true. 

The Pink ball for all its hype, did not move an inch in the air in the first two sessions and England had to try their plans B, C and D to stop Australia from taking the game away from them.

Warner 2.0 is pricier

It’s a flat pitch, the ball is not swinging and most importantly, the Test match is in Australia and David Warner has played more than 100 balls. What would be the expected scoreline for Australia and Warner based on the above factors? All will be forgiven for assuming Warner would have crushed the opponent inside the first session and taken the game away from them before they could dissect the good line and lengths to bowl at the surface.

However, the version of Warner which has come after the comeback from injury and poor form is willing to put an immense price tag on his wicket and is ready to get into arm-wrestling instead of his old method of launching brutal punches from the word go.

He did not have the gift of not having to face his nemesis Stuart Broad in this game as was the case at the Gabba and the challenge was knocking at his batting crease from the word go. He left the very first ball from Broad, who became a veteran of 150 Test matches in this game, but only for the ball to hit his pad. England appealed in the hope which was dashed by the umpire but Warner was knocked off from any sort of complacency he would have developed looking at the nature of the pitch at the Adelaide Oval and the absence of swing with the new ball.

After Broad, Anderson examined his awareness of the off stump and the dashing opener was denied the opportunity to even open his account until the 20th delivery. By the time he started his innings with a single in the eighth over, Marcus Harris would have switched on the tap for an early shower and the repairing job was on with Marnus Labuschagne even before he could find his feet.

He batted with extreme caution and did not give anything away in the first session in a rather old fashioned way of opening in Test matches. He continued to bat in the old fashioned manner and opened up shoulders in the evening session to punish each and every opportunity he got to score off.

He looked commanding so late in the 40th over and broke the shackles of the leg-side field with two signature shots off Ben Stokes to bring up his third slowest and hardworking fifty.

Warner's scoring areas were plugged by England as they employed bodyline tactics to both him and Labuschgane and both of them decided to defeat the tourists in the game of attrition. Turned out, they outlasted their tactic although the number three offered a few chances and hopes to England fielders.

He carried on batting with control and did not play even one rash shot to give England an opening and ensured Australia’s middle order had to wait for a long time to come out to bat.

He missed out on a century yet again by slapping one of the worst balls he attacked the day and the facial expression of helplessness spoke more words than his strokes and patience did on how much he wanted to score a hundred in this game.

Rise and rise of Labuschagne

It was Travis Head who took the game away from England at the Gabba after Ollie Robinson and company brought them back in the game with regular wickets. However, all former England cricketers who are vocal pundits of the game outlined Marnus Labuschagne who made the difference between England and Australia in the first innings. 

They argued that his awareness of the off stump and judgment to leave balls on length even on balls coming back towards stumps should set the template for top-order batsmen on how to bat in the series. They underlined that he frustrated the likes of Chris Woakes and Robinson into bowling straight at him after leaving almost all balls outside off.

The script played out completely similar at the Adelaide Oval but he had tough nuts to crack in the form of Anderson, who is a master of flummoxing batsmen with his variations and Broad who can bowl relentlessly in the channel around off.

The duo did what they do best and took a stern and lengthy examination of Labushagne’s patience and determination to see off the new ball and Australia’s number three came out on the top of the contest with flying colours. Not only did he blunt the new ball attack but he also found ways to tackle England’s second and third contingency planning of bodyline tactic to go not out five short of a deserving hundred on the first day.

Labuschagne was just 41 runs away from reaching 2,000 runs marks in Test cricket and reaching there his 34th innings made him the third-fastest Australian batsman to reach the milestone.

Jos Buttler sumps up England’s situation

England would have been ecstatic at the start of the day to see Cummins missing out from the game and they were certainly delirious when Jos Buttler flung to his right to catch the ball off the backside of Marcus Haaris’ bat and gave England a perfect start to the game.

The catch was sensational and it was in some sense established Buttler’s developing credentials as wicketkeeper for the longest format. However, as the day went from good to bad, he went through two torrid moments to make it worst for the tourists.

Ben Stokes was not bowling at full tilt but was sending the ball to the batsmen with all the spirits he had. He had positioned three men back at deep square leg, deep fine leg and a backward square leg to trap Labuschagne if the right-hander was eager to take the bait. Labuschagne has not been a brilliant player of the short ball and most certainly he gets caught in two minds against short balls when there are players positioned in deep.

A few overs into the short ball tactic from round the wicket angle, Labuschagne got into a tangle and faced the same situation as Harris did against Broad but did not suffer the same fate as Buttler dropped an absolute dolly. The ball was neither too high nor too wide to demand a leap or dive from him but the wicketkeeper hurried in his attempt and tried to leap in the air to catch. The ball did not stick and England missed the golden opportunity to send the glue of the Australian batting group when he was just getting his eyes in at 21.

The damage was done by the time the Labuschgane committed his next sin—of trying to push delivery off the back foot that was too close to him and bounced more than he anticipated, and Buttler for all the plaudits he received in the morning, spilt the opportunity once again. It was as simple a catch one could get behind the wicket for any fielder let alone a wicketkeeper with gloves in his hands and Anderson could only offer a muted grump to the wasted opportunity.

England were very controlled and they understood the lack of assistance from the pitch and in the air fairly quickly to deny Australians full balls that they could hit for four. They bowled in the channel around off stump for the most part of the day except when they wanted to test the halfway mark of the pitch but they were unlucky to miss the edge on numerous occasions. 

Labuschagne was beaten outside off stump when he looked to play at deliveries on more than 20 occasions and any of those deliveries could have brought wicket that England deserved. However, at the end of the first day, they have been left to rue the missed opportunities and clean up the mess of their own making on the second and remaining days of the Test match.

  • Ben Stokes
  • Joe Root
  • Jos Buttler
  • Marnus Labuschagne
  • David Warner
  • Pat Cummins
  • Ashes 2021-22

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