Marnus Labuschagne punishes England after Jos Buttler drops him TWICE while David Warner falls agonisingly short of a century as Australia takes command on the first day of the second Ashes Test
- Steve Smith took the Australia captaincy over from Pat Cummins after he came into contact with a Covid-19 case
- David Warner made 95 before picking out Stuart Broad with a poor shot
- Marnus Labuschagne made a gritty 95, finishing unbeaten with Smith
- Australia reached 221-2 at stumps on the first day of the second Ashes Test
A day that began with Australia in chaos off the field ended with a familiar sense of control on it, as David Warner and Marnus Labuschagne batted them into a position of dominance in the second Ashes Test in Adelaide.
At stumps on the first evening of this pink-ball match, they had advanced carefully to 221 for two, with Labuschagne reaching the close five short of his first hundred against England, and Steve Smith with him on 18.
For Joe Root’s, a disappointing day was summed up moments earlier, when Jos Buttler contrived to put down Labuschagne on 95 off Jimmy Anderson as England tried to make inroads with the second new ball. It was the simplest of chances, but England are already making a habit on this tour of making the simple look impossible.
Marnus Labuschagne scored a gritty 95 as Australia took control in the second Ashes Test
Jos Buttler agonisingly dropped Labuschagne twice, including a routine chance on 95
The England keeper also dropped Labuschagne on 21 but that was a much tougher chance
After their nine-wicket victory at Brisbane, Australia already look close to impregnable here. Eight previous floodlit Tests have brought them eight wins; four for England have produced three defeats. There was little evidence on the first day here that either sequence will take a turn for the unexpected.
For Australia, a solid day’s batting on the best pitch in the country was just the tonic after they dramatically lost their captain Pat Cummins after he was deemed a Covid close contact following a trip to the Little Hunter steakhouse the night before.
And that instantly meant another dramatic twist: more than three and a half years after he lost the captaincy because of the Cape Town sandpaper fiasco, Smith walked out to toss up – older, wiser, largely forgiven.
His first deed was to watch Joe Root call incorrectly, handing Australia first use of an inviting surface.
Still, England had fresh bowlers and a new ball, and Stuart Broad marked his comeback – as well as his 150th cap – with the early wicket of Marcus Harris, brilliantly caught down the leg side for three by a diving Buttler.
Labsuchagne batted patiently at the crease and punished England for not taking their chances
Opening batsman David Warner played brilliantly for his 95 for Australia in Adelaide
But he will be fuming with how he picked out Stuart Broad off Ben Stokes’ bowling on 95
For a while England kept control. At mid-morning drinks, Warner had scored one off 32 balls, his slowest start to a Test innings. Labuschagne was steady, too, and at lunch Australia had inched to 45 for one off 25 overs.
Gradually, though, the sameness of an attack that included Chris Woakes ahead of Mark Wood – England’s one bowler capable of express pace – was exposed.
It was one thing to bowl dry, which James Anderson did with typical expertise on his own return to Test cricket. But their length was unthreatening: Australia’s batsmen were rarely lured forward, and cheerfully hung back, knowing full well what would be coming their way.
Having added 156 at Brisbane, Warner and Labuschagne now put on 172, at an increasingly fluent lick. The stand should have been ended on 58, only for Buttler to put down a simpler leg-side chance than the one he had caught earlier, as Labuschagne gloved a pull off Ben Stokes on 21.
And by the time Stokes did finally take his first Test wicket since March, Australia had 176. At Brisbane, Warner had fallen for 94. Now he had 95 when he slapped a Stokes long hop straight to Broad at cover. No one could quite believe it – on either side.
England’s strategy appeared to revolve around hurrying through to the second new ball under lights. But so poor was their over-rate – despite losing their entire match fee for that very misdemeanour at Brisbane – that the strategy looked doomed long in advance.
The day started well for Jos Buttler – he took a great catch to dismiss Marcus Harris
Broad pictured leading the celebrations after his bowling dismissed Harris early in the day
To compound the folly, England aimed too short, too often, while Root overused his own off-breaks in an attempt to hasten the 80-over mark.
While they became embroiled in their own psychodramas, Labuschagne accumulated diligently, oblivious to the number of times he was beaten outside off stump.
Yet he, like Warner, should have been on his way for 95. Attempting to force Anderson off the back foot, he provided the simplest of chances to Buttler, who moved to his right and somehow dropped the catch.
The Adelaide drama, though, had begun the night before, as Cummins ate out at a local restaurant. A fellow diner, understood to be a grade cricketer from Sydney in town to watch the Test, approached the Australian captain. They shook hands, and spoke.
But when the man learned during the course of the evening that he had tested positive for Covid, Cummins – who left the restaurant immediately – had no choice but to inform Cricket Australia.
He underwent a test, which came back negative, but under South Australia health guidelines was considered a close contact.
Steve Smith captained Australia as Pat Cummins was ruled out after close-contact with Covid
For his opposite number Joe Root, it was another disappointing day to endure
Three hours before the start of the game, Cricket Australia confirmed that Cummins, who on Twitter described himself as ‘gutted’, had been ruled out of the Test. He immediately entered a seven-day isolation period, which should mean he is available again for the Boxing Day Test at Melbourne.
It also emerged that he came close to being joined by two team-mates: Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon had dined at the same restaurant, but – unlike Cummins – had sat outside. As a result, SA Health deemed them ‘casual contacts’, clearing the path for them to play.
Despite cases of the omicron variant rising in Australia, pre-agreed protocol for the Brisbane and Adelaide Tests – both in states with strict Covid regulations – allowed players to circulate freely and dine out, so long as they used their judgment.
Cummins’s misfortune recalls the moment in 2005 when Australian seamer Glenn McGrath was ruled out of the second Test at Edgbaston on the morning of the game after treading on a stray ball on the outfield and rolled his ankle.
Australia, though, coped well enough without him.
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