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Labuschagne century seizes initiative for Australia

Marnus Labuschagne’s century has piloted his side to 274-5 at stumps on day one of the series-deciding fourth Test in Brisbane, where India’s unheralded attack exposed Australia’s early lack of ruthlessness.

India’s bowlers, boasting a combined 13 Test wickets at the toss, are believed to be the most inexperienced attack that Australia have confronted since 1880. The tourists’ injury crisis became bleaker with confirmation that spearhead Jasprit Bumrah (abdominal) and offspinner Ravichandran Ashwin (back) would be two of four enforced omissions.

India could have been excused for dropping their bundle when Navdeep Saini limped off during his eighth over, having suffered a groin injury that would prevent him from bowling again on Friday. Likewise when fellow paceman Shardul Thakur left the field in obvious discomfort late in the day, having fumbled a return catch offered by Cameron Green on 19.

But the depleted visitors, as they have done throughout a four-Test series locked at 1-1, showed plenty of character in front of a sold-out and socially-distant crowd of 12,998.

David Warner and Marcus Harris both departed in the opening nine overs as Australia crashed to 17-2, while Steve Smith (36) and Matthew Wade (45) both failed to convert starts. Labuschagne, who was dropped on 37 and 48, shook his head in disbelief after a mistimed pull shot resulted in a skied edge and his dismissal on 108.

It had been a textbook Gabba hundred from the leading run-scorer of the series, who worked hard early then cashed in as bowlers started to tire. Green and Tim Paine, unbeaten on 28 and 38 respectively, may yet fashion an imposing first-innings total.

T Natarajan offered some relief to India dismissing centurion Labuschagne. PHOTO: ICC

But Paine, who opted to bat first on what he expected to be a “pretty good batting wicket for the first few days”, would have loved nothing more than to sit in the dressing room throughout the day.

Such a scenario looked likely during the Labuschagne-Smith and Labuschagne-Wade stands, worth 70 and 113 runs respectively. An all-run four in the first over after lunch signalled Labuschagne’s intent, while another all-run four helped him reach three figures after a superb cover drive.

Labuschagne brought up his half-century in 145 balls, barely acknowledging the milestone, then only needed a further 50 deliveries to race to his first Test ton since last year’s SCG Test.

Captain Ajinkya Rahane, having a grassed a regulation chance at gully offered by Labuschagne when Australia were 3-93, will wonder what might have happened if India held onto one of three dropped catches.

Smith is also likely to be cursing himself. The gun batsman, who otherwise scored freely and looked fluent at the crease, became offspinning allrounder and former IPL teammate Washington Sundar’s maiden Test scalp.

Harris handed Thakur his first wicket at the highest level, while Wade was Thangarasu Natarajan’s first Test victim.


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