Usman Khawaja fell three runs shy of a century as Australia produced a superb top-order performance on day three of the first Test against Pakistan.

Responding to Pakistan's first innings' 476-4 declared and resuming on five without loss, Khawaja's 97, along with half-centuries from David Warner (68) and Marnus Labuschagne (69 not out), took the tourists to 271-2 - trailing by 205 runs when bad light stopped play.

It means Australia, playing with heavy hearts following the sudden passing of legendary leg-spinner Shane Warne on Friday, are in an excellent position to at least claim a draw.

The Islamabad-born Khawaja and Warner laid the foundations, combining for a stand of 156, the second-highest opening partnership in Test history in Rawalpindi.

Both Khawaja and Warner played in attacking fashion, the former's half-century coming off just 67 balls. Warner's came in 86, but he was undone when he attempted to go square through the off side and missed a Sajid Khan delivery that careered into middle stump.

His exit did not open the floodgates as Pakistan might have hoped, but they did at least prevent Khawaja from recording an 11th Test hundred.

Khawaja contributed to his own downfall as he got a reverse sweep all wrong, gloving Nauman Ali to Imam-ul-Haq at foward short-leg, with Aleem Dar forced to overturn his original not out decision following a review.

Yet, with Labuschange and Steve Smith (24 not out) surviving until the fading light forced the players off, Australia have two batters who are among the most difficult in world cricket to dislodge set at the crease, a sign that is, for Pakistan, as ominous as the gloom that stopped proceedings.

Khawaja and Warner narrowly miss out on history

Only Mark Taylor and Michael Slater (176) have linked up for a higher first-wicket stand than Khawaja and Warner in Rawalpindi, that duo excelling in October 1994 in a match that ultimately ended in a draw. The same result looks likely again here after Khawaja and Warner narrowly missed out on surpassing their compatriots.

Labuschagne to let loose?

Pakistan will have painful memories of their previous two encounters against Labuschagne, which saw him score 185 at Brisbane and then 162 at Adelaide in 2019. He looks in the kind of form to deliver another massive score.

Australia's Travis Head struck a century to punish England on a rain-affected opening day of the fifth and final Ashes Test at the Bellerive Oval in Hobart.

The hosts, who have an unassailable 3-0 lead, finished Friday on 241-6 having earlier been reduced to 12-3 by an England side who won the toss and chose to bowl first.

England showed five changes from last week's drawn fourth Test in Sydney, including a debut for Sam Billings, and started in an impressive manner.

David Warner (0), Usman Khawaja (6) and Steve Smith (0) all went by the start of the 10th over, while Marnus Labuschagne would have followed had Zak Crawley not fumbled.

That may well prove a decisive moment in the final Test as Labuschagne and Head launched a counter-attack by scoring 53 runs from the next seven overs.

But on 71 from 72 balls, Labuschagne comically wrong-footed himself when attacking a Stuart Broad delivery and could only watch from the floor as Australia lost another wicket.

England lost bowler Ollie Robinson to injury and their problems were compounded by the work of Head, who continued to rack up the runs when joined by Cameron Green.

Head survived a big scare on his way to reaching 101 from 113 balls, but his day was ended after he chipped a Chris Woakes delivery to Robinson at mid-on.

Green got to 74 before holing out at deep mid-wicket and only nine more balls were bowled due to rain, with Mitch Starc (0) and Alex Carey (10) to resume play on Saturday.

Travis keeps his Head after Crawley loses his

England could not have asked for a much better start on the green surface, with Robinson and Broad dismantling Australia's top order by dismissing Warner and Smith for ducks.

But Crawley's drop of Labuschagne, combined with England's wayward bowling from that point on, allowed Head – recently sidelined due to COVID-19 isolation – to grab the fifth Test by the scruff of the neck.

He went past the 100 mark, becoming the seventh Australian to do so in a day/night men's Test innings after Warner, Labuschagne, Khawaja, Smith, Shaun Marsh and Peter Handscomb.

Green shoots of recovery

Australia all-rounder Green had a maiden hundred in his sights, only to fall to Mark Wood's short-ball trap 16 runs shot of three figures.

At 22 years and 225 days, he is the youngest player to score 50 or more runs in a men's Test innings for Australia at Bellerive Oval and the fourth youngest overall at the ground.

David Warner insists he relishes his Ashes battles with Stuart Broad despite being dismissed by the England bowler for the 13th time in Test cricket.

The Australia batter, who has twice come close to a century amid a dominant series for the hosts, was removed for 30 by the returning Broad on day one of the fourth Test.

Australia, who lead 3-0, closed on 126-3 at the SCG after only 46.5 overs of play were possible due to rain.

Broad had been left out of two of the first three matches and this week expressed his frustration over England's failure given he has "not really done anything" and missed the chance to play on favourable pitches.

Another veteran England bowler, James Anderson, who missed the first Test earlier in the series, also struck on Wednesday, removing Marcus Harris for 38.

And Warner suggested Australia are glad to be up against two of the world's top bowlers.

"I really enjoy giving you guys a good story, which is fantastic and it builds up the game," Warner said of his duels with Broad, who had him caught by Zak Crawley.

"Me and Broady love it when we're out there. It's good fun, good funny banter. 

"I tried to drive the ball too straight, that was my disappointment, but it's awesome to see Broady back out there.

"He's a world-class bowler. Him and Jimmy Anderson bowling at us is great. 

"Obviously, they would have been disappointed with some of these Test matches, not playing together, but that's for their selection panel. 

"It's great to come up against the world's best from England."

Mark Wood removed Marnus Labuschagne (28) before the close as Australia struggled to build on a strong start that had seen them reach 111-1.

It means Steve Smith (6 not out) and Usman Khawaja (4no) will be under pressure when they return to the crease on Thursday.

England are looking to avoid a 5-0 whitewash, a fate they have suffered twice in Australia since the turn of the century.

Amid their struggles, former England batsman Rob Key cannot comprehend why Broad has not been a regular.

He told Sky Sports: "You absolutely have bogey bowlers. I had about 18!

"For David Warner, it is Broad - which makes it even more ridiculous that Broad did not play that first Test in Brisbane. 

"Warner would have been sat there thinking, 'I could really do without facing this bloke'.

"All Warner's preparation would have been about how he was going to combat and defeat Broad and score runs against him – and then England don't pick him! This just shows how poor a decision that was.

"Now Broad has ended up playing on the two pitches so far with the least amount of movement and missed out on the two pitches that would have done a lot for him."

Mark Wood is eager to inflict more torment on Marnus Labuschagne after dismissing the prolific Australia batter on a rain-affected first day of the fourth Ashes Test.

Australia closed on 126-3 after Pat Cummins won the toss and elected to bat first at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Wednesday.

Only 46.5 overs were bowled due to poor weather, with rain preventing England from making further inroads.

Stuart Broad got rid of David Warner (30) for the 13th time in the longest format and James Anderson had Marcus Harris (38) caught by Joe Root in the slips before Labuschagne edged Wood through to Jos Buttler.

England fast bowler Wood hopes he can claim the scalp of Labuschagne time and again after sending the top-ranked Test batter in the world on his way for 28.

The paceman said: "I'm delighted to get Marnus because he's a top player. I know we've had this bowl fuller thing but I think we have to hit the wicket hard and make them play as much as we can.

"Thankfully I made Marnus play, it wasn't an easy ball to leave, and he managed to edge it.

"I'd love to have a Broad v Warner thing with him. Anybody would love that when they think they've got a chance to get someone out.

"The ball before, Marnus hit me for four so I just tried to zone in a bit more. I knew the ball before was loose but I got this one spot on.

"You want to test yourself against the best players. I've been a bit frustrated in that I've felt in good rhythm and have been bowling well in this series without getting the wickets I would have liked but to get big players like that out makes you very happy."

Wood revealed he had been suffering from illness ahead of the fourth Test as England battle to avoid a 5-0 whitewash.

He said: "I had a bit of a rough night but I managed to keep just enough energy for the day.

"I had a bit of a stomach problem but I'm hoping that with a good night's rest and some food inside me I'll be right as rain tomorrow."

Although England were frustrated by rain, Wood was delighted they got the opportunity to remove Harris and Labuschagne before play was called off for the day.

"It could have been a good opportunity for us to get another couple of wickets but after a stop-start sort of day to get a couple towards the close was a big deal," he added.

Joe Root says the England captaincy is "not a dictatorship" as the tourists prepare to try and keep the Ashes series alive in the Boxing Day Test at the MCG.

Root called on his attack to be "braver" by bowling fuller lengths after Australia went 2-0 up with a resounding 275-run victory at the Adelaide Oval.

England start the third Test in Melbourne knowing they must win to have any chance of regaining the urn and captain Root does not see a problem with himself and the bowlers having a difference of opinion.

"I like to give our bowlers, especially the senior ones, that responsibility," Root said. "They [James Anderson and Stuart Broad] have more than 300 Tests between them and over 1,000 wickets, and they know what they are doing.

"It's working alongside them, it's not a dictatorship. Every now and again, you don't always agree on everything and that's fine.

"Ultimately, it's about coming to a point where you get the results we want. Unfortunately, in the last game, we didn't quite get there."

Root will break former Pakistan batter Mohammad Yousuf's record of 1,788 Test runs in a calendar year if he scores 159 or more in England's last match of 2021.

England must raise their game in the field, having dropped at least five catches in four of their past five Tests. They put seven chances down in Adelaide.

Australia have lost two of the previous three Boxing Day Tests, both of those defeats coming at the hands of India.

 

England set to ring the changes

The tourists are set to wield the axe after two heavy defeats, with Zak Crawley, Jonny Bairstow, Jack Leach and Mark Wood potentially getting the nod.

Rory Burns is reportedly in danger of being dropped and fellow opener Haseeb Hameed is also under pressure, while Chris Woakes looks likely to miss out after he went for 149 runs and took only one wicket in the second Test.

Ollie Pope has also been out of sorts early in the series, failing to reach double figures in his past three innings after starting with 35 at the Gabba.

Crawley has not played for England since a drawn Test against India at Trent Bridge in August.

 

Cummins returns, Labuschagne on top of the world

Pat Cummins returns to skipper Australia after missing the last Test due to coming into close contact with a positive coronavirus case at a restaurant in Adelaide.

Australia now have the number one Test bowler in the world in Cummins and the best batter on the planet, with Marnus Labuschagne taking that mantle from Root.

Labuschagne is the leading run-scorer in the series with 228 at an average of 76 following his maiden Ashes century in the second Test.

Josh Hazlewood is set to miss out again due to a side injury, so Jhye Richardson should get another opportunity after claiming a maiden five-wicket Test haul on his Ashes debut last week.

Joe Root has backed himself to score a maiden Test century in Australia as England search for a response in the Ashes after a dismal start.

England have been comfortably dispatched by Australia in the opening two Tests, succumbing to a 275-run defeat in Adelaide after a nine-wicket beating in Brisbane.

The tourists are without a win in 12 Test matches in Australia – their joint-longest such run (also 12 between January 1937 to February 1951) – and must defeat Justin Langer's side in Melbourne to stop them from retaining the urn.

Root has been in fine form, scoring 175 runs at an average of 43.75, but the England captain has yet to convert to three figures despite registering eight half-centuries in Australia - only Bruce Laird (nine times) has reached fifty more times in Tests Down Under without ever managing to a ton.

Indeed, Root has already surpassed Michael Vaughan (1,481 in 2002) for the most Test runs in a calendar year by an England player and sits fourth on the all-time list with 1,630 runs in 2021.

Root will eye the Boxing Day Test as a chance to further his record haul and the 30-year-old remains confident he can manage a maiden ton on Australian soil sooner rather than later.

"I expect a response from our players and I would like to bring a nice Christmas present home for everyone who stays up," Root told reporters.

"I feel in a really good place with my batting. I feel confident I can, in these next three games, bang out a hundred in these conditions.

"I know that's a brave thing to say but my conversion rate, this year, it's not been an issue at all.

"I feel like I have managed that well and have an understanding of how I want to score my runs. There's clarity there, I just need to keep putting myself in those positions, just have the bit between my teeth, [make it] 'over my dead body'".

 

Australia number three Marnus Labuschagne, who leads the Ashes scoring charts with 228 runs, overtook Root as the ICC's top-ranked men's Test batter and England's skipper admitted he wants his title back.

"I've never been one for that but it would be nice to have it back for Christmas," he responded when asked about being displaced at the top of the rankings.

Root will also be expecting a response from his bowling attack after he provided a scathing summary post-match in the second Test, in which he slammed his bowlers for repeating mistakes from four years ago and needing to be braver with their lengths.

He hopes his outburst, which was followed up by a "brutally honest" Chris Silverwood debrief with the England players, will act as a catalyst for change on Saturday.

"I did [get angry] at the end of the last game because of the situation we're in and the manner in which we lost," he continued.

"I'll always try to look at things with a level, pragmatic approach but I don't think you could after the way we've played those last two games. I expect a response from everyone this week.

"Twice now we've got ourselves into a position, second innings in Brisbane, first innings in Adelaide, with decent partnerships between me and Mala [Dawid Malan], we needed to go on and we didn't.

"Sometimes that can happen, but the first 20 balls, starting your innings, you've got to be disciplined, you've got to know how you're going to get yourself in the game and we can't afford to be losing eight wickets for 70 or 80 runs.

"It is not good enough, it is not the level that an England Test team should be playing at. The guys know that and they're very aware of that. Their work ethic is very good and you'll have seen how guys practiced and how long they bat for in the nets, but sometimes I think we can be smarter about what we are practicing and how we are practicing.

"And understanding that batting, in my opinion, it's about making good decisions for long periods of time."

Australia's Marnus Labuschagne has risen to number one in the ICC Test batting rankings.

Labuschagne made his Test debut for Australia in 2018 against Pakistan in Dubai. However, it was during the 2019 Ashes that the 27-year-old came to prominence.

He became the first player to be a concussion substitute in a Test match when he replaced Steve Smith in the second match at Lord's, after the former Australia captain had been struck on the back of the neck.

His resilient 59 helped Australia secure a draw and he was named in the line-up for the following Test and has not looked back since.

Labuschagne has averaged 62.14 from 20 Tests, and has scored 74, 0 (not out), 103 and 51 in his four innings in the 2021-22 Ashes as Australia cruised into a 2-0 lead.

He has hit six centuries, including one double-hundred against New Zealand in January 2020.

Labuschagne's career-high 912 rating points saw him leapfrog England captain Joe Root, who has had a brilliant 2021 when it comes to run-scoring, even if his side have struggled.

Indeed, Root has now scored 4,859 runs as England Test captain, surpassing the previous record set by Alastair Cook (4,844).

Steve Smith, Kane Williamson and India's new white-ball captain Rohit Sharma complete the top five.

Pakistan captain Babar Azam, meanwhile, has risen to the number one spot for T20I batsmen, though he is tied with England's Dawid Malan.

Mitchell Starc has bowled impressively in the Ashes so far and has moved into the top six for bowlers.

England's hopes of levelling the Ashes in the second Test appear to be all but over after Australia's stand-in captain Steve Smith declared at 473-9 on Friday.

Australia were sitting pretty at 221-2 at the end of day one in Adelaide and picked up where they left off, with Smith and a wagging tail cashing in as the tourists flagged.

England subsequently went into bat after a mammoth 150 overs in the field, looking exhausted and embarrassed as they begrudgingly attempted to chip away at a surely unassailable total, losing both openers cheaply to reach 17-2 at stumps.

Australia did not have it all their own way, though.

Marnus Labuschagne (103) raised his bat with a boundary early on to seal his first Ashes century, but the wickets did soon fall.

Ollie Robinson trapped Labuschagne lbw before Joe Root (1-72) and Ben Stokes (3-113) sent Travis Head (18) and Cameron Green (2) back to the pavilion. Australia were 303-5 at lunch, giving England reason for optimism.

However, Smith (93) – skippering in the absence of Pat Cummins – kept plugging away until he was eventually halted by James Anderson just short of his century. The same England bowler then took the wicket of Alex Carey (51) in his next over.

Yet the final hour or so of Australia's innings proved brutal as their tail swung into action. Mitchell Starc hit 39 not out from as many balls and Michael Neser reached 35 off 24, giving the hosts a real injection towards the end.

Smith's declaration was timed to minimise the length of England's break after a gruelling fielding session, and the tourists lost Rory Burns and Haseeb Hameed in the first seven overs.

Play was abandoned due to a looming electrical storm, the rain presumably a welcome arrival for Joe Root's men.

Robinson makes Australia work

While the second Test has largely been tricky for England thus far, Robinson certainly showed some class with the ball as he recorded figures of 1-45, somewhat miserly compared to the rest of the England attack.

Every other England bowler afforded Australia more runs despite only Anderson presiding over more than Robinson's 27 overs, with Chris Woakes and Stokes each conceding over 100 runs.

Smith tides the hosts over

After the excellent early work of David Warner (95) and Labuschagne on Thursday, things could have fallen apart on day two, but Smith ensured the boat was not rocked.

His 93 off 201 deliveries was steady and patient, precisely what Australia needed. While Head and Green did not have quite the same impact, Smith's showing at least allowed the likes of Carey, Starc and Neser to go into bat with a little less pressure, and they certainly made the most of that.

England batting coach Graham Thorpe implored his side to support Jos Buttler after the wicketkeeper twice dropped Marnus Labuschagne on the opening day of the second Test.

The tourists toiled for large parts of Thursday in Adelaide, having lost the first outing in Brisbane comfortably, after stand-in captain Steve Smith won the toss and elected to bat.

Smith, who captained Australia for the first time since the ball-tampering scandal in 2018, was taking the place of Pat Cummins, after the fast bowler was forced into isolation following contact with a COVID-19 case in a restaurant on Wednesday.

David Warner batted for long periods, only to fall for 95 in the final session of the first day-night Test as he was partnered by Marnus Labuschagne who ended play unbeaten on 95, with Australia 221-2.

The pair shared a second-wicket stand of 172, their sixth century partnership together – no duo can top their combined runs total since Labuschagne's Test debut in October 2018 – but England had ample chances to remove Australia's number three.

Buttler shelled a tough opportunity off the bowling of Ben Stokes with Labuschagne on 21, before dropping a regulation chance from James Anderson in the final hour with the right-hander still five away from his century.

Thorpe, who averaged over 49 for England against Australia during his playing career, insisted that the touring party need to rally around Buttler after the pair of errors.

Thorpe said to BBC's Test Match Special: "Dropped catches hurt us. Jos will have to clear his mind and go again.

"No-one means to drop catches but that's the game and sometimes it can happen to you. We need to get around him and support him.

"Australia were looking to take two set batters into the last session and they played the game very well. They defended well early on - we went past the bat a lot but they kept their wickets.

"We have to keep going at it, luck can turn. I thought we bowled well - you can look at occasionally going fuller but there wasn't much margin for error on that pitch.

"Australia are in a good position. It's up to us to take early wickets with the new ball, that'll be crucial. We have to show some fight and heart."

Marnus Labuschagne is aiming to capitalise on England's missed opportunities after Australia closed on 221-2 after the opening day of the second Test in Adelaide.

David Warner (95) and Labuschagne (95 not out) produced gutsy performances after stand-in captain Steve Smith opted to bat on Thursday, with Australia already boasting a 1-0 series lead.

Smith – captaining for the first time since the ball-tampering scandal in 2018 - was taking the reins due to Pat Cummins isolating after the fast bowler came into contact with a COVID-19 positive member of the public in a restaurant on Wednesday.

Smith's winning toss looked fruitful as Labuschagne batted with David Warner for most of the day in a 172-run second-wicket stand – the pair's sixth century partnership in Tests - no other duo has scored more runs since Australia's number three debuted in October 2018.

Warner subsequently fell in avoidable fashion, caught at cover by Stuart Broad – who earlier dismissed Marcus Harris – off the bowling of Ben Stokes in the final session of the first day-night Test.

Labuschagne was also fortunate to remain undefeated, given he was twice dropped by Jos Buttler – on 21 and 95 – the second of which by all means a regulation chance off James Anderson's bowling.

Aware of the opportunity ahead of him, Labuschagne now wants to cash in with Smith on England's lack of clinical catching when it mattered.

"That was massive for the team just getting through that period, me and Steve [Smith]," Labuschagne told reporters. "It sets us up really well to get a big first-innings score tomorrow.

"The last bit of play there I just wavered a bit where I played that shot and got dropped. I was a bit in disbelief, but it's my job to make sure I capitalise on that now.

"I gave them a chance there and I gave them a chance earlier, going down leg, so I've got to make sure that tomorrow I give away no chances."

Labuschagne reached 2,000 Test runs in just his 34th innings, with only four players – Michael Hussey, Herbert Sutcliffe, George Headley and Don Bradman – achieving the landmark in fewer outings.

But the right-hander was quick to credit his partner for much of the day Warner, who once again fell short with three figures in his sight.

"He [Warner] batted beautifully today, how he went about his innings and his patience," Labuschagne added. "Especially early, I think he went about 20 balls without scoring and then glimpses of the attacking David Warner we know.

"I feel bad for him missing out today but 95, he'd take that at the start of the day."

Marnus Labuschagne stood unbeaten on 95 and David Warner fell just short of a century as Australia battled to 221-2 on the first day of the second Test in Adelaide.

Steve Smith captained Australia for the first time since the ball-tampering scandal in 2018, after new skipper Pat Cummins was forced to isolate following close contact with a COVID-19 case in a restaurant.

Smith opted to bat first on Thursday and lost opener Marcus Harris for three to Stuart Broad in the bowler's 150th Test, as Jos Buttler produced a fantastic diving catch down the leg side. Harris had earlier overturned an lbw decision.

Warner closed shop in response against Broad and James Anderson's early dominance with the pink ball, managing just one run from his opening 35 deliveries, with Labuschagne following in a similarly attritional fashion.

Labuschagne was relieved when he was dropped by Buttler on 21 off Stokes, and capitalised as he battled to his second fifty of the series in 156 deliveries, after Warner had brought up a 108-ball half-century – the pair sharing their sixth century stand in Tests.

Left-handed opener Warner then fell in the 90s for the second consecutive Test when Broad gratefully collected a catch at cover, with Stokes' aggressive short-pitched bowling finally paying off. Warner was dismissed for 95 and the partnership ended at 172.

Buttler shelled a regulation catch from Anderson in the final hour with Labuschagne on 95, before Australia's number three and stand-in captain Smith made it to stumps unbeaten after a testing period against the new ball under the lights.

Landmark Labuschagne delivers once more

Labuschagne crafted an excellent first-innings 74 at the Gabba and followed that up with more calculated brilliance against England's five-man seam attack on a flat Adelaide Oval pitch in almost perfect batting conditions.

The right-hander, who has faced 275 balls so far, also made it to 2,000 Test runs in his 34th innings, with only four players – Michael Hussey, Herbert Sutcliffe, George Headley and Don Bradman – requiring fewer outings to reach the landmark.

Spin it to win it?

The surface in Adelaide has already shown signs of turn and bounce, much to the frustration of England, who dropped Jack Leach as the tourists went without a spinner for the first time in an Ashes Test since Headingley in 2001.

That run dates back further to 1998 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground for the last time England played without a spinner Down Under, and captain Joe Root, tasked with operating as the frontline spinner, struggled as he recorded figures of 0-37 from his 11 overs.

Travis Head hit his first Ashes century as Australia reached 343-7 to take control of the first Test in Brisbane.

Head's place in Australia's line-up was under some scrutiny heading into the series, but the decision to give him the nod over Usman Khawaja paid off emphatically and he is still in place on 112 not out heading into day three.

His century came after David Warner fell just short of a ton, striking 94 before falling to Ollie Robinson, the pick of England's bowlers with 3-48.

A blow to the underside of Head's chin from an errant Mark Wood delivery could not even dampen Australia's mood.

England were desperate for a fast start after a nightmare opening day at the Gabba, where the tourists were skittled for 147.

Joe Root's men got what they wanted – Ashes debutant Robinson making the early breakthrough when he had Marcus Harris (3) caught at slip.

Ben Stokes knocked over Warner for 17 but he was afforded a reprieve with a no-ball call, while Marnus Labuschagne's edge fell agonisingly short of Root.

Warner was granted two more lives following lunch – Rory Burns dropping a routine catch on 49, while the opener was stranded outside his crease on 60 – but Jack Leach's dismissal of Labuschagne sparked England.

Four wickets in the space of eight overs followed. Warner, Cameron Green (0) and Steve Smith (12) all sent to the pavilion as Robinson just missed out on a hat-trick.

Despite the wickets of Alex Carey (12) and captain Pat Cummins (12), England – walking wounded with Stokes struggling and most of their attacking fading in the sun – were unable to maintain their charge.

Head surpassed his century with a sublime on-drive from Chris Woakes and though Wood's beamer did deliver a blow to the batsman's jaw, his efforts moving Australia into a 196-run lead.

Head stars as team-mates set the stage

Head could well have put this game out of England's reach. His innings so far has included 12 boundaries and two sixes. Only four players have scored a faster hundred for Australia in a men's Test innings (Adam Gilchrist, Jack Gregory, Warner, Matthew Hayden).

While they did not have centuries to show for their efforts, Warner and Labuschagne enjoyed stellar days. Warner posted his sixth 50-plus score as an opening batsman at the Gabba, equalling Bill Lawry for the second most at the ground in the format as an opener – only Mark Taylor (eight) has more. Labuschagne, meanwhile, recorded his fourth 50-plus score in five career innings at the Gabba.

No-ball embarrassment

Umpiring and technology were in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons after Stokes' early spell. Having been denied the wicket of Warner due to a no-ball, analysis of his spell showed the England star had overstepped 14 times with only two no-balls called. The reason? The technology had failed, leaving the umpires to make the calls.

As for Stokes, he finished with disappointing figures of 0-50 from nine overs, suffering a knee injury in the field to further compound a so-far frustrating return.

Australia will be expected to ensure normal service is resumed in the heat of an Ashes battle at the Gabba when they start a new era on Wednesday.

The Tim Paine sexting scandal presented Pat Cummins with the opportunity to become the first fast bowler to captain the Australia Test side.

Cummins was appointed less than a fortnight before his side start their defence of the urn against fierce rivals England, with Steve Smith his assistant as Paine takes an indefinite mental health break from cricket. 

The paceman has long since been talked of as a potential successor to Paine and gets his chance earlier than expected.

Cummins was already on a high from playing his part in Australia's maiden T20 World Cup triumph in Dubai last month and should thrive on the extra responsibility of being skipper.

Australia have not played a Test since they were consigned to a 2-1 home defeat to India in January and although England have had plenty of action in the longest format this year, poor weather in Brisbane has badly hampered their preparations.

Stats Perform picks out some of the storylines, sprinkled with some Opta data, from an Australia perspective before one of the great sporting rivalries gets under way again.

 

Cummins to get Australia going?

Cummins has led Australia's pace attack on many occasions and was the pick of the bowlers in a 2-2 Ashes series draw in England two years ago, taking 29 wickets at average of 19.62.

Since the start of 2018, no bowler has claimed more scalps in the longest format than the 28-year-old's 128 - which have come at 19.9 apiece.

Cummins, the number one Test bowler in the world, will no doubt be licking his lips at the prospect of ripping into what has been a fragile England batting line-up.

Josh Hazlewood will also pose a huge threat and Mitchell Starc will be out to silence critics such as Shane Warne, while Jhye Richardson and Michael Neser show Australia's strength in depth in the pace ranks.

 

Gabba no longer a fortress?

Australia had not lost a Test at the Gabba for 33 years until India's famous victory in January.

Joe Root fanned the flames last month by stating the hostile Brisbane venue is no longer such a "stronghold" for Australia.

It has most certainly not been a happy hunting ground for England, who have only won four of 21 Tests at the stage for the curtain-raiser for the series. The tourists' last Test win at the Gabba came in November 1986.

England have not won a Test in Australia since January 2011, losing nine and drawing one of their previous 10 contests, and they will be braced for a barrage of pace when they start their quest to regain the urn this week.

 

England must find an answer to Smith and Labuschagne 

The England bowlers had seen more than enough of Smith by the end of the 2019 series.

He racked up 774 runs at an average of 110.57 from seven innings, reaching three figures on three occasions and scoring a sublime 211 at Old Trafford.

The former skipper broke his own record for number of runs in a Test series in the 21st century. Only the great Don Bradman (19) and Jack Hobbs (12) have more Ashes centuries than Smith's 11.

Marnus Labuschagne was also outstanding in England two years ago, averaging 50.42. He has been a revelation at number three and will have a big role to play.

 

Australia in safe hands with Carey?

Alex Carey will take the gloves and make his Test debut at the Gabba in the absence of Paine.

Carey has plenty of experience at the age of 30 and has 83 international white-ball experiences under his belt.

He comes into his Test bow on the back of making a timely century for South Australia against Queensland in the Sheffield Shield and has a chance to cement his spot in the side.

Marnus Labuschagne will miss Australia's white-ball tour of West Indies in July due to travel complications amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Labuschagne is currently playing for Glamorgan in England's County Championship and Australia's selectors have decided it will be more practical for the batsman to remain in the UK.

Australia will play five T20s in St Lucia and three ODIs in Barbados.

Although Labuschagne has not represented his country in the shortest format, he has three fifties and a century in 12 ODI innings, at an average of 39.41.

"Anyone who knows Marnus understands he would give absolutely anything to play for Australia and he is deeply upset to miss out due to circumstances beyond anyone's control," Australia's selection chairman Trevor Hohns said.

"We worked through numerous options in conversations with Marnus to find a workable solution but ultimately came to the conclusion it was more practical for him to remain in the UK.

"Had we not been in the middle of a global pandemic, Marnus would be on this tour as a well-established member and important part of the one-day side.

"It's an unfortunate circumstance of the many challenges the world is facing right now. As it stands, Marnus has the opportunity to continue in county cricket and T20 games with Glamorgan as we head into the [T20] World Cup and home summer."

Daniel Sams asked to be left out of the tour, which could yet be followed by a limited-overs trip to Bangladesh, for personal and mental health reasons.

The all-rounder tested positive for COVID-19 during his recent stint in the Indian Premier League, which was subsequently postponed due to the worsening coronavirus situation in the country.

Cricket Australia's integrity unit has contacted Cameron Bancroft to ask whether he wishes to provide any new information over the 2018 ball-tampering scandal that saw himself, Steve Smith and David Warner banned.

In an interview with The Guardian on Saturday, Bancroft hinted Australia's bowlers during that Test match against South Africa at Newlands – who were not punished – knew about activities undertaken to illegally alter the condition of the ball.

"Yeah, obviously what I did benefits bowlers and the awareness around that, probably, is self-explanatory," he said.

 

Preliminary Australia squad for limited-overs tour of the West Indies:

Aaron Finch (captain), David Warner, D'Arcy Short, Steven Smith, Josh Philippe, Alex Cary, Matthew Wade, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, Moises Henriques, Mitchell Marsh, Ashton Agar, Adam Zampa, Mitchell Swepson, Tanveer Sangha, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Jason Behrendorff, Josh Hazlewood, Riley Meredith, Jhye Richardson, Kane Richardson, Andrew Tye

Australia fear they might have let India off the hook on the first day of the deciding Test in Brisbane, according to centurion Marnus Labuschagne.

Number three Labuschagne reached three figures for the first time in the series with a typically diligent 108.

However, he top-edged a pull off debutant seamer Thangarasu Natarajan (2-63) to be pouched by wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant, shortly after Matthew Wade departed to the same bowler for 45.

Like Wade, Steve Smith was guilty of not capitalising on a start when he became Washington Sundar's maiden Test wicket on 36, although Cameron Green (28 not out) and under-fire captain Tim Paine (38no) got the hosts to 274-5 at stumps with the four-match series all square at 1-1.

"Look, all our batters are going to make their own assessment of the way they got out. They're all international players," Labuschagne said.

"You know everyone gets judged harshly. You're your own harshest critic and everyone will look at their dismissals and say, 'What could I have done better?'

"I'm definitely disappointed about not going on and getting a really big score that would have put us in a better position as a team.

"We'll still take the position we're in, it was really nice to see Greeny and Tim finish it off there when we did lose two wickets in quick succession."

Injuries have laid waste to India's plans over the course of the series and Natarajan and Sundar featured for the first time in the longest format as key men Ravichandran Ashwin and Jasprit Bumrah were ruled out.

It meant learning on the fly against unfamiliar opposition, although it was a challenge Labuschagne relished.

"Definitely I had to formulate some plans on the run and keep trying to understand the situation, what they were doing. That's the part of the game that is really enjoyable." he said when considering an India attack that was further compromised by the loss of Navdeep Saini to a groin injury after only 7.5 overs.

"You've got to read the situation out there. You can look at stuff on a screen and see how guys bowl but only you know out there, with a feel of how you can do things and how you can make things easier. "

Not for the first time, Smith was the centre of controversy for alleged gamesmanship on the final day of the drawn third Test, but Labuschagne failed to spot any ill-effects as the pair shared a stand of 70 for the third wicket.

"I don't think when he walks out onto the field that stuff really concerns him. He's focusing on the ball and scoring runs," he added.

"If anything it gives him extra motivation to put big runs on the board. I don't think that stuff comes into play when he's out there at all."

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