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Batting duo set foundation for Australia's early stranglehold

After the day started with hosts' plans thrown into chaos, it could not really have finished much better

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
David Warner brought up a measured half-century, Australia vs England, 2nd Test, The Ashes, Adelaide, 1st day, December 16, 2021

David Warner brought up a measured half-century  •  CA/Cricket Australia/Getty Images

Things happened quickly before play started on the opening day in Adelaide. Australia needed a replacement captain and fast bowler. For large parts of the day the action in the middle unfolded at a more sedate pace but the hard work put in by David Warner and Marnus Labuschagne, allied with a helping hand from England, set the foundation for Australia's early stranglehold on another floodlit Test.
Whereas the decision at the toss in Brisbane was a tricky one, here there was no doubt what the right thing to do was and the coin fell Steven Smith's way which was probably a relief after the drama of the preceding few hours. Stuart Broad bowled well to remove Marcus Harris cheaply and caused David Warner some uneasy moments from around the wicket, but from then on England were blunted by the same partnership that thwarted their attempts for early wickets at the Gabba.
It took Warner 20 balls to get off the mark; from 25 overs at lunch Australia were 45 for 1; by the second drinks break they were 77 for 1 off 40 overs; Labuschagne's half-century would take 156 deliveries and despite being on 94 when the new ball was taken he could not reach three figures by the close. But the value of today could be seen tomorrow.
"Today felt like I was in the right zone, playing my areas, and creating a bit of length to cut and pull because we were getting nothing," Warner said. "It was one of those hard, grinding days so I think it was a big tick for us."
As with four years ago, it felt as though England bowled too short, although assistant coach Graham Thorpe defended their tactics. More than 200 deliveries were logged by ESPNcricinfo as short-of-a-good-length and another 35 were short. The 76 deliveries they did bowl full went at nearly a run a ball - and England's bowlers often speak about wanting to control the run rate - but by not going full more often they removed a wicket-taking threat.
"I felt as a team we bowled well enough in the first hour and a half to pick up three wickets," Broad said during a drinks-break interview with the host broadcaster.
Warner and Labuschagne are forming a formidable partnership. They now average 101.83 per stand - the second-highest for any Australia pairing to have batted at least 10 times together - bolstered by the 361 they added in the day-night Test on this ground against Pakistan in 2019-2020.
Warner has grafted for his runs at the start of the series with a strike-rate of 55.10 compared to his career figure of 72.34. He was batting with the pain of his badly bruised ribs and popped some painkillers during his stay having had a local anesthetic before play but came through his reunion with arch nemesis Broad.
"I was pretty close [to not playing] but unless I've got no leg I'm not not going to walk on the field," Warner said. "Probably showed that last year [against India]. If I can get out on the park, I'll do everything I can to do that. I was in a bit of agony… it doesn't feel great but had a Test to play. There's a series on the line and wanted to commit to that."
His first delivery created some excitement as Warner shouldered arms and the ball thudded into the pads, but he later explained one of the key differences to facing Broad in Australia was being able to leave on length. He became more expansive as the innings progressed against the older ball but his dismissal, smashing a short delivery to cover, was out of character for the restraint he had shown. However, he felt the short-ball strategy played into Australia's hands.
"Once you get a couple of boundaries away and they start leaking you've got to change tactics, but they obviously didn't do that so could have worked into our plan a little and the ball gets softer," he said.
Labuschagne made England pay for dropping him on 21 when Jos Buttler grassed a simpler chance from a gloved pull than the screamer to remove Harris. A second life came his way on 95 when Buttler shelled a regulation edge off James Anderson. Themes of Australia tours past are rearing their heads.
Labuschagne had skipped into double figures off nine balls but then did not add to his tally for the next 37. In that period he, too, was tested by Broad who beat him on four consecutive occasions early in his innings. His scoreless spell was broken by a risky back-cut off Ben Stokes which flew just wide of slip.
In the night session, England's persistence with the short ball nearly worked when Labuschagne got an inside edge onto his shoulder against Stokes but it landed safely and he also took a couple of blows on the arm. He batted himself almost to a standstill as the day drew to a close, and he should not have survived until the end, but it was an exhibition in resilience.
Australia know there will be a chance to increase the tempo on the second day, with the temperature set to hit 36 degrees. If things go well they could be in position to exploit the last session with the new ball. After the day started with their plans being thrown into chaos it could not really have finished much better.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo