Ashes 2019: Smith and Labuschagne rescue Australia as rain plays havoc on opening day
Persistent rain exacerbated with ferocious wind hampered play on Day 1 of the fourth Ashest Test, allowing a meager 44 overs to be bowled at Old Trafford in Manchester. Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne united forces to anchor the Australian resurgence after England veteran Stuart Broad dented the tourists' lineup with early breakthroughs in the morning session.
Having to field first after losing the toss, the hosts drew first blood as stalwart David Warner tentatively poked at an innocuous away-swinger from Broad, perishing cheaply for a second-ball duck in the first over itself. Barring a solitary flash of determination at Headingley, the exuberant left-hander has looked all at sea with his defensive technique, particularly against Broad; this was his fifth dismissal to the hostile quick in the series.
The ace speedster also terminated Marcus Harris' valiant resistance, catching him plumb on the shuffle on 13 with one that nipped back in. The decision was reviewed by the southpaw but to no avail as the ball could distinctly be seen kissing the top of the leg stump.
With the Aussies quivering at 28-2, the Smith-Labuschagne association valiantly led a rearguard action. Purely conventional in his approach, Labuschagne seemed to pick up from where he left in the previous match as he efficiently blocked out the menacing opening spells from the potent English attack, while also majestically dispatching any loose ones on offer with utmost disdain.
Smith, returning after missing the Leeds Test due to a nasty concussion injury, got off the mark with an archetypal cover drive for a boundary on a tempting half-volley from Jofra Archer. Milking handsome drives and caressing wristy flicks, the batting aficionado scored runs freely all over the ground as England appeared clueless all over again.
The junior member notched up his fourth half-century on the trot shortly after the lunch break with a delicate nudge into the vacant square-leg region. Subsequently, rookie Craig Overton quashed Labuschagne's bid for an elusive century with a magnificent delivery that went through the gate to knock the off stump.
Labuschagne departed for a resolute 67, but the duo had already bailed Australia out from choppy waters with a spectacular 100-run partnership.
Apart from the late dismissal against the run of play, the English bowling was lackluster post the lunch break with the speedsters unable to hit consistent lines and lengths. Archer in particular underperformed significantly, considering the lateral movement available off the surface.
Unperturbed by the wicket of his partner, Smith remained unbeaten on 60, alongside Travis Head. The two ensured no further casualties as Australia ended the day at 170/3.
Brief scores: Australia 170/3 (Marnus Labuschagne 67, Steve Smith 60*; Stuart Broad 2-35) vs England.