Windies survive late exam after Smith’s unbeaten double

Despite boasting a pair of double century makers in the same Test innings for the first time in over a decade, Australia’s remorseless dominance of the first NRMA Insurance Test was stymied by a brave West Indies opening stand that announced the arrival of a new batting hope.

In reply to their hosts’ daunting first innings of 4(dec)-598 – underpinned by Marnus Labuschagne’s 204 and Steve Smith’s unbeaten 200 – the West Indies reached 0-74 at stumps on day two with Tagennarine Chanderpaul in sight of a half-century in his maiden Test innings.

Smith and Labuschagne became the first pair of double century makers in the same innings since Michael Clarke and Ricky Ponting achieved the rare feat against India at Adelaide Oval in 2011, with Travis Head missing out on his triple-figure milestone by the barest of margins.

But in contrast to the often-abject resignation they showed in the latter half of their bowling innings, the West Indies reply with bat in hand was doggedly defiant.

Skipper Kraigg Brathwaite (18no) and his debutant opening partner Chanderpaul (47no from just 73 balls faced) withstood 21 overs of high octane pace bowling under thick evening cloud during which they both copped multiple blows.

Chanderpaul was especially impressive, wearing an eye-watering hit from Josh Hazlewood that left him prostrate on pitch edge for several minutes as team medicos pumped his legs in a brave bid to quell the pain and mitigate the shock.

The fine-boned left-hander was also struck several times on the upper body as he concertina-ed himself limbo-style beneath a barrage of short balls, but in between those moments he drove and cut without fear to suggest a productive career awaits.

The 26-year-old – whose father, Shivnarine, was inducted to the ICC’s Hall of Fame last month – also survived a confident shout for lbw in Mitchell Starc’s second over (when on four) that fell narrowly in his favour when adjudged as ‘umpire’s call’.

Brathwaite also benefited from the DRS process, although the appeal for a catch behind off Pat Cummins when he was on 16 was revealed to be more in hope with the ball passing harmlessly past his outside edge.

But for all the pluck shown by the visitors’ first-wicket pair, they still have a sizeable mountain to scale.

At the close of play yesterday, Usman Khawaja told he expected day two to offer the best batting conditions of the Test.

But even at his most optimistic, he could not have envisaged Australia would subjugate the West Indies bowling as utterly and remorselessly as they did for 62.4 overs today.

During those two-and-a-bit sessions, they plundered 305 runs against some of the most desultory bowling Test cricket in this country has witnessed for the loss of just two wickets – both of which fell to occasional spinner Brathwaite as the result of self-inflicted wounds.

The first of those was Labuschagne, having celebrated his second Test double-century on the cusp of lunch at which point his half-hearted dab at one of Brathwaite’s round-arm off-breaks nestled in the gloves of keeper Joshua da Silva.

It’s not often a Test batter heads to the sheds with a double-hundred to his name but so demonstrably disconsolate, a clear indication the 28-year-old felt he had left at least another century out there.

It was also a less rueful countenance than that aired by Head, who had motored to 99 at better than a run per ball with his greatest conundrum being how to engage in some mindful eating against a sumptuous buffet of parklands bowling until he outsmarted himself.

With his teammates all waiting boundary side in full playing kit, having been told Australia’s declaration would come immediately after both he and Smith posted their respective milestones, Head attempted a similarly meek shot to that which undid Labuschagne.

And instead of netting him the single that would have brought his fifth Test century, it instead yielded an inside edge back on to off stump that meant Head became the 25th Australia batter – and the first since Shaun Marsh against India at the MCG in 2014 – to be dismissed for 99.

It was an ignominious end to an innings of otherwise flawless fluency that shone far brighter than the bowling he faced, but was always going to be an afterthought to Smith’s contribution.

With barely a mishit during the seven hours and batted and from the 311 deliveries he faced, Smith not only made good his prediction he was getting back to his batting best but ensured the statement was heavily underscored and appended with an exclamation point.

Although he would have to concede he’s faced more searching training sessions against teenage net bowlers than he was subjected to for much of today’s knock.

The fact West Indies skipper Brathwaite enlisted barely medium pacers Jason Holder (around 125kph) and Kyle Mayers (120kph) before finally unleashing his fastest bowlers Alzarri Joseph and Jayden Seales until much later in the opening session.

Mayers had indicated prior to play starting he was feeling sore after yesterday’s 11-over workload, and Seales must surely have been afflicted by some ailment given he had taken one of the two wickets to fall on day one during which he was his team’s most threatening bowler.

But even if the West Indies boasted an attack the calibre of those legendary 1980s outfits, it’s doubtful they could have curtailed Smith such was his technical mastery and mental strength.

Upon reaching his 29th Test ton shortly after the day’s first drinks break, Smith not only equalled the centuries tally of Don Bradman but did so in his 155th Test innings with only Bradman (79) and India’s Sachin Tendulkar (148) having reached the milestone in fewer knocks.

By that stage, another of the game’s all-time greats – former West Indies skipper Brian Lara – noted in commentary for Fox Cricket that his former team had no chance of claiming all 10 Australia wickets and their best hope was to limit scoring until a declaration salved their pain.

But that modest assignment proved beyond them as Smith joined with Labuschagne to flay 109 from the 28 overs until lunch, and then found even greater freedom in union with Head as they carved 166 from the next 30 overs up to tea.

In reaching his fourth double-hundred moments before Head’s dismissal brought the declaration, Smith joined Greg Chappell and Clarke with four scores of 200 or more for Australia.

Only Bradman (12) and Ponting (six) have posted more.

The ease with which Australia’s batters scored represents a troublesome trend against a once-feared bowling line-up which is scheduled to return here for a further two Tests next summer.

In their past five first innings against West Indies on home soil (including today’s efforts), Australia have piled on 2,428 runs for the loss of 20 wickets at an average of more than 485 per innings and in excess of 120 runs per scalp.

And that includes the first innings of the previous encounter at the SCG seven years ago when rain curtailed the game with Australia 2-176 in their first innings and seemingly on target for another hefty total.

The visitors’ plight was best encapsulated by the belated introduction of Joseph into the attack more than an hour into the day, by which time Labuschagne had progressed to 186 without being troubled by the diet of medium-pace he had been fed throughout the morning.

With his third delivery of his second over – having changed ends after his first – Joseph’s extra pace induced a tentative steer from Australia’s number three that flew barely over the outstretched fingertips of substitute fielder Shamarh Brooks stationed at fine gully.

Joseph’s clear irritation at his teammate’s less-than-urgent effort was doubtless compounded by the knowledge Brooks was on the field for Holder who – at around 30cm taller and one of world cricket’s best close catchers – would likely have plucked the rare offering.

(Story by Andrew Ramsey/


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Michelangelo Jacobus

Sports Editor and Founder of 'The 592 Dugout'.

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