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Match Analysis

Labuschagne, Head lead strong batting display to tune out off-field noise

Warner's words on his captaincy ban dominated conversations but, out in the middle, a depleted West Indies attack meant it was business as usual for Australia

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
08-Dec-2022
Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne notched up centuries to cement Australia's command  •  AFP/Getty Images

Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne notched up centuries to cement Australia's command  •  AFP/Getty Images

One of Australia's greatest batters sent shockwaves through the game in Adelaide. There were gasps of amazement at the events unfolding. What would it mean for him, and the match?
Steven Smith had been dismissed against West Indies. Something that had not happened since December 10, 2015. And it was for a duck. A lot has gone on in Australia cricket since then.
Playing slightly early at a drive, he offered a low return catch to Jason Holder who stooped to take it by his ankles. Smith threw his head back in frustration - or maybe disgust - because this was not a day to be missing out.
At 131 for 3, West Indies, almost out of nowhere, given their threadbare resources, had a glimmer of putting some pressure on Australia. But, as a final tally of 330 for 3 would attest, with the familiar sight of the newly-minted No. 1 Test batter Marnus Labuschagne making another century and a hometown hundred for Travis Head, that was as good as it got.
It was just the sort of dominant batting display that Australia needed to avoid the off-field noise following them into the middle even if, in reality, given the support for David Warner inside the team, it was unlikely to transpire that way.
Inevitably, though, the events of the previous evening when Warner dropped his 793-word statement dominated much of the conversation around the day, particularly when his manager did an incendiary radio interview.
For a little while it was possible to imagine Warner's response to his off-field anger could translate into something spectacular in the middle. He drove the first ball of the match through the covers for three. Alzarri Joseph gave him some uncomfortable moments, but when he struck three crisp boundaries in the ninth over, it looked like it could be about to cut loose.
However, two balls later he went after a wide delivery and edged a big drive through to the keeper. Warner groaned. He could no longer distract himself - and others - from the middle.
Still, for the next three hours it was possible to ponder whether Australia would lose another wicket. Roston Chase was bowling in the 10th over and soon had a deep point; Marquino Mindley's Test debut lasted two overs before he tweaked a hamstring (he had an almost impossible ask made of him after a 36-hour journey from Jamaica just two days before the match); captain Kraigg Brathwaite was floating up his straight-breaks before the dinner break; and to cap it off they had a substitute fielder, Omar Phillips, plucked out of Melbourne grade cricket.
To West Indies' credit they did not let the run-rate get away from them, although when Devon Thomas was summoned to the bowling crease it did not immediately bode well. Yet, almost out of nowhere he had Usman Khawaja lbw with a ball just shaving leg stump from round the wicket.
Holder then reduced Smith's average against West Indies from 239 to 179 but he and Joseph couldn't keep going. With Mindley off for a scan, options were limited and the half hour leading into the tea break saw Chase and Brathwaite operate in tandem. With the dynamics of a day-night Test, and the desire to have fresh quicks for the final session, there was some logic to it, but it did not impress Ricky Ponting.
"It's just rubbish bowling," he said on Channel 7. "They've just given away 30 runs. They built the pressure up. Jason Holder will be absolutely spewing. Bent his back, did everything right, disciplined, executed really well, only for this to happen."
West Indies head coach Phil Simmons was more measured and praised Brathwaite of juggling his depleted attack. The quicks returned after the interval with Anderson Phillip putting in a good shift to support Holder and Joseph but it didn't bring any reward. Head was not always secure, beaten on occasions outside off as he looked to drive, which is part of the trade-off for his positive approach, but Labuschagne barely put a foot wrong although he later said he felt this was a grinding effort.
The pitch did not really have the pace to test him with the short ball as Joseph had done in Perth, although it may still have been underdone. Just four of the 59 balls he bowled to Labuschagne were logged as short albeit they cost 10 runs.
When he sliced Thomas through backward point he made it centuries in three consecutive innings for the second time of a career that is only 30 matches old. For now, his average also ticked above Smith's. There should be tougher challenges ahead against South Africa, but he is on for a gargantuan season.
As the clock ticked over to 10pm he worked the final ball of the day to midwicket. An Australia batter who will likely be remembered as a great, if he hasn't already done enough to be regarded in that category, strode off with thoughts, no doubt, of another double tomorrow. It was normal service for Australia. On the field, at least.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo