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Analysis

Electrifying session by Australia's bowlers ends rather aptly

England will hope the third day session allows them to settle into what needs to be huge first innings

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
17-Dec-2021
A lightning bolt streaked to the ground near the Adelaide Oval just as Dawid Malan faced a delivery from Michael Neser. Fortunately, the ball went past off stump and seconds later the players were leaving the field, but it was somewhat apt after what had been an electrifying short session from Australia's new-ball bowlers.
Since Australia got through the initial skirmishes on the opening day with only the loss the of one wicket, everything had felt as though it was building towards this moment. A big first-innings total, fresh bowlers and England's uncertain top order sent in for a challenging period under the lights.
Australia had done something similar against Pakistan two years ago, albeit it at a greater pace and with a far grander total of 589 for 3 after David Warner's triple century, and had them 96 for 6 by the close. Who knows how many wickets Neser, Mitchell Starc and Jhye Richardson would have had if the session had gone its distance. It's a fair chance it would have been more than the two they had already bagged.
For much of Australia's superbly constructed innings there had been a slow and steady tempo as they focused on getting to this crunch period of the match. The swinging bats of the three quicks at the start of the final session was the signal of what was to come, and their effectiveness probably gave Australia a few more runs than appeared likely. The declaration was as much about timing as it was the total.
"As we play more [with the] pink ball there'll be more strategy and tactics," Marnus Labuschagne said. "This is certainly one, managing the night session and managing the tougher times to bat and the easier times to bowl and vice-versa.
"If you as a batting group can get through a day two, three, four down and you can have the opposition bat in that night session you can do some damage. Tonight we only had 10 overs and we got two wickets. It certainly seems to be doing a little more at night but I felt like this wicket was doing plenty the whole game. You were always in the game from a bowlers' perspective."
When Australia had ball in hand, this match went to another level. The seven runs taken off Starc's first over were certainly not a sign of things to come. Richardson, who has waited more than two years to return to the Test side due to shoulder injuries, will bowl many a worse over and take a wicket than the one he delivered to Haseeb Hameed which including beating him on four occasions.
Then Starc, having taken a few more deliveries than he needed in Brisbane, was too much for Rory Burns to handle. This time it was a length ball that shaped away from the left-hander, taking a thick edge and landing in the hands of Steven Smith whose match back in the captaincy could not have gone much better so far except for being lbw to James Anderson for 93.
Starc was given three overs with the new ball before it was handed to debutant Neser. He had already been given a confidence boost by the merry 35 off 29 balls he clobbered off England's beleaguered attack who, at times, had eight fielders on the boundary.
His moment to bowl in Test cricket had been a long time in the making. He was first in a squad in 2018 and has carried the drinks at least a dozen times. He would still be waiting if Pat Cummins had not dined at a steak restaurant on Wednesday night.
His first delivery, in fact, effectively happened twice with Hameed backing away at the last moment due to some movement behind the arm. The actual first ball was on the spot, a good length at the top of off stump as Neser so often is, and it took a thick edge towards gully. Of all the ways Neser had dreamed of taking a maiden Test wicket, caught in the cordon from a nice outswinger was probably high up there.
What actually happened was quite different. Against his second ball Hameed closed the face as he aimed to the leg side and chipped a simple catch to mid-on. England's batters are finding some ways to get out already in this series. To a man, the Australians ran to embrace Neser. His Queensland colleagues, Usman Khawaja and Mitchell Swepson, who are carrying the drinks raced from the dugout. Alongside former house-mate Labuschagne, Neser had plenty of team-mates present who have seen his journey at close hand.
"Think Mitchell Swepson got in the huddle before some of the people on the field," Labuschagne said. "We were all so happy for him, what he's done for the last four years in Shield cricket averaging something like 19 with the ball. I've obviously spent a lot of time with him, we are very, very good mates and so exciting to see him take that first one which can be the toughest one and give him the confidence that he can come back tomorrow and lock into his work. Think this wicket really suits his bowling."
That last comment from Labuschagne, as well as feeling there had been plenty in the surface throughout, was quite telling with Neser's wicket coming from a pitched-up delivery. However much England defend their tactics it did not feel there had been enough of that in Australia's innings, particularly with the wickets of Smith and Cameron Green coming from full-length deliveries at the stumps.
"There's two ways to look at it," Labuschagne said. "Most of their bowlers' economy rates were two, some of them even under two. If you bowl slightly more back of a length it's tougher to score but obviously not as attacking and you don't bring the stumps into play as much. From our perspective we try to learn from that and make sure we are challenging the stumps as much as we can."
England will hope, having been saved what could have been a horrendous 45 minutes more batting under lights, that the day-time period allows them to settle into what needs to be huge first innings. History, and much more recent evidence, suggests that the storm has far from passed.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo