Tea Australia 162 for 2 (Labuschagne 81*, Smith 4*) vs West Indies
Marnus Labuschagne closed in on a century after batting through the second session on day one to blunt West Indies’ attack in the first Test at Optus Stadium.
But after toiling for much of the session, West Indies received a much-needed tonic before tea when seamer Kyle Mayers removed opener Usman Khawaja for 65 with a cracker of a delivery outside off stump to entice an edge.
It provided a lift for West Indies with Labuschagne luckily edging over slips in the next over amid a fiery burst from quick Kemar Roach. There were signs late in the session of the surface quickening up after Labuschagne and Khawaja had looked mostly untroubled.
There were early fireworks as expected on a grassy pitch, but the surface settled amid perfect afternoon conditions to justify Australia captain Pat Cummins’ decision to bat first.
After weathering a tricky first session, Labuschagne and Khawaja controlled proceedings with a 142-run partnership, nudging the ball around on the vast expanses of a ground with similar dimensions to the MCG.
Closing in on his eighth Test century, Labuschagne has clearly enjoyed returning to Optus Stadium, where he scored 143 and 50 against New Zealand three years ago in the last Test match played at the 60,000-seat ground.
While Khawaja looked in sparkling touch from the get go to continue his Test resurgence as an opener with an average of 95 for the calendar year.
They had few problems against a West Indies attack appearing to go through the motions as the session wore on amid quiet surroundings with the huge grandstands mostly empty in a sedate start to the Australian Test summer.
Quick Alzarri Joseph attempted to spark his team late in the session with a short-pitched strategy to Khawaja, but was unable to conjure much sharp bounce.
The much-talked about pitch, which attempts to mimic characteristics from the nearby WACA, is expected to harden up and be quicker in the coming days as Cummins’ decision increasingly appears a masterstroke with Australia appearing to have the best of the batting conditions.
West Indies captain Kraigg Brathwaite used six bowlers, who were mostly disciplined but he was let down by expensive offspinner Roston Chase.
Australia made a patient start in the first session after the early loss of opener David Warner, whose lean run in Test cricket continued when he chopped a full and wide delivery from quick Jayden Seales onto the stumps.
Khawaja and Labuschagne were mostly shackled by West Indies’ quicks bowling a good line and length as they mostly resisted pitching up. They were backed up by aggressive captaincy from Brathwaite, who implemented attacking fields complete with five slips and catchers around the bat.
There were several rearing deliveries, especially Joseph’s sizzling first delivery to Labuschagne, but the batters started to get on top late in the session after the introduction of Chase.
The momentum spilled over after lunch but the dismissal of Khawaja ensured West Indies didn’t endure a wicketless session as they started their bid to end a 25-year Test curse in Australia.
A full-strength Australia went in as expected, while West Indies named Tagenarine Chanderpaul, the son of legendary batter Shivnarine, for his Test debut and he received his marooned cap from Brian Lara before play.