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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Geoff Lemon in Perth

Old firm of Labuschagne and Smith put Australia in control against West Indies

Marnus Labuschagne of Australia, right, celebrates reaching 150 during day one of the first Test match against West Indies in Perth.
Marnus Labuschagne of Australia, right, celebrates reaching 150 during day one of the first Test match against West Indies in Perth. Photograph: James Worsfold/Getty Images

After all of the short-form mayhem, the gentle rhythms of Test cricket returned. It also returned to Perth after a pandemic-enforced absence since 2019. Australia’s players took a knee in a gesture against racism for the first time in a Test match, in solidarity with the West Indies team. Then the work as opponents began after Australia won the toss and chose to bat, coming through some serious toil against good bowling to reach 293 for 2 at stumps, with Steve Smith on 59 and Marnus Labuschagne notching his eighth Test century before carrying on to 154.

The day also began with eyes on Justin Langer, after the former coach’s week of criticising his former players before trying to backtrack. “Perception and reality. Perception often sells newspapers,” said Langer, who days earlier had a full-length photo portrait published with his column on the back of the West Australian. On the field before play in his new job as a television commentator, it was all smiles and hugs with the players, who have as much reason as the coach to show grace. The bonhomie was helpfully edited into a short video package by Langer’s employer.

As for supposed discontent between the Perth public and Test cricket, or with this Australian team in particular, the day’s crowd of 10,929 will be cited. In truth, in the context of West Indies Tests in Perth, it was higher than the 10,091 that showed up on a Saturday to start the 1997 Test, and not too far behind the 13,037 in 2009, the 15,721 in 1993, or the 16.984 in 2000. The colossal size of the new stadium makes smaller crowds look terrible compared to how they used to look in the much smaller WACA ground.

This West Indies team is not as good as those from the 1990s, and probably better than 2000 or 2009. A well-balanced outfit had four fast bowlers in Jason Holder, Kemar Roach, Alzarri Joseph and Jayden Seales, medium pace from the top order via Kyle Mayers, and a batting spinner in Roston Chase, and those bowlers were fast, accurate, and hostile through the first session.

For a long time, patience was the only virtue. David Warner managed four overs before nailing a pull shot from Joseph, then with a rush of confidence couldn’t resist chasing width. The thick bottom edge crashed onto his stumps amid a bull roar of frustration. But Usman Khawaja and Marnus Labuschagne stuck to the task, taking only 39 runs off the seam bowlers by lunchtime. Early quality from Roach and Seales was backed up by asphyxiation from Mayers and a spell from Holder of five overs for one run. Only 23 runs from the spinner eased the pressure, including a Khawaja six over long-on, making the score 72 for 1 at the long break.

Joseph had already made Labuschagne hop with short stuff, and a Seales over after lunch saw him invent an uppercut pull shot before nicking through slip for two fours. But the task grew easier as ball and bowlers grew tired, and the hard work paid off. Khawaja moved to 65 before a pearler of a delivery from Mayers angled in at the left-hander and curled away to take his edge, which brought together the old firm of Labuschagne and Smith, both bringing a calmer and less demonstrative presence to the middle.

A couple of catches that didn’t go to hand were as good as things got for West Indies after that, with Australia reaching tea at 162 for two by tea, then plundering 131 in the long final session. Bouncer tactics were employed in bursts with catchers out on the hook, but the batting pair were able to take on the short ball with increasing comfort. An eighth century partnership between Smith and Labuschagne became 142 at stumps, with West Indies hopes now resting on an early burst with a ball 10 overs old on the second morning.

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