Australia’s Marnus Labuschagne scores ton but other batsmen disappoint against depleted India attack in fourth Test


The 36th over of day one of the fourth Test in Brisbane was a microcosm of India’s heroic and possibly doomed attempt to take home the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

Spindly seamer Navdeep Saini was the bowler. It was his sixth day as a Test cricketer.

Thanks to an excruciating process of deduction, that made him the deputy leader of India’s attack — five bowlers with four Test appearances between them, toiling away on a flat, hard surface that has been a burial ground for even seasoned international bowlers. Of course, India had earlier lost the toss again.

All morning the patchwork combination applied themselves diligently, bowling fuller than their predecessors in this series, sticking to a plan that meant they were frequently driven for ego-bruising straight boundaries.

Yet it also reaped rewards. David Warner nicked off in the first over of the day. Marcus Harris gave catching practice.

By the 36th over, one of the debutants, off-spinning all-rounder Washington Sundar, had removed Steve Smith, Australia’s batting phenomenon. Now Saini worked away at Smith’s right-hand man, Marnus Labuschagne, slightly back of a length, off stump line, squaring the Queenslander up and drawing the thick edge towards the safe hands of Ajinkya Rahane at gully.

Of course, the catch went down.

India has done it all summer. Australia too, but in anomalous clumps, not day in, day out. Labuschagne alone has had more lives than Sylvester the Cat. This time the opportunity was dead simple, its spillage inexplicable. Saini fell to the turf and writhed in agony. In the process of delivering the ball he’d injured his groin. Because, well, of course.

On the same delivery he saw Marnus Labuschagne edge a dropped-chance to gully, Navdeep Saini went down with a groin injury.(AP: Tertius Pickard)

Australia should have been 4-93 at that point, batting first on its multi-generational stomping ground against cricket’s ship of Theseus — just two core components from Adelaide and nine replacement parts.

Saini returned to the arena soon enough, but you half-expected him to trip head-first into the gate or be struck by a lone bolt of lightning out of clear blue sky. Indeed, it took neither that nor a single further delivery and he was back off the ground anyway.

For a while, India sagged ever so slightly, and you expected them to buckle and break. A few hours after his reprieve, Labuschagne drove Mohammed Siraj through cover to bring up his century from 195 deliveries. His partnership with Matthew Wade stretched into triple figures. Here was the flat track, here were the bullies.

Then Wade again lost his head before reaching 50, undoing a lot of hot, sweaty work with the sort of agricultural hack-pull that sticks in the minds of even his supporters. Again, it went further up than away. Again, he was caught. And again, it sparked a mini crisis; Labuschagne departed in a similar manner only two overs later.

Australia batsman Marnus Labuschagne goes down on one knee as he completes a shot against India bowler T Natarajan.
Marnus Labuschagne was the only batsman to truly take advantage of India’s makeshift attack with a Gabba ton.(AP: Tertius Pickard)

Thus Australia was five down for not nearly enough, and the team that cannot be killed was still breathing down its neck.

Shane Warne muttered: “It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?” And for once, it was. How had they done it?

In short, only Labuschagne had done what the other batsmen should have: cashing in against a depleted attack.

The appeal of Labuschagne is also his drawback: when he is on song, which is now more often than not, he bats as though bowlers are not entitled to his wicket. He has access to all the gears required to combat Test cricket’s fluctuating moods. He has the stamina to counter harsh conditions — 32 degrees doesn’t sound hot, but the humidity in Brisbane was energy-sapping, especially so soon after the exhausting finish at Sydney.

When he has more restraint, he will challenge Smith’s position as top dog.

But the rest? Maybe what follows will make a moot point of it, but there were more signs that all is not-quite-right with this Australian line-up, both in its construction and philosophy. It is hard to think of another combination of recent decades, for instance, who would have let as modest a spinner of the ball as Sundar settle into his groove the way he did today.

India celebrates as Matthew Wade walks off after his dismissal at the Gabba
Matthew Wade again lost his head before he could reach fifty.(AP: Tertius Pickard)

Perhaps a shock loss here, unlikely as it remains, would be of greater benefit to the home side than the complacency that might accompany a win.

Credit must also be applied where it’s due. That Australia dropped its bundle earlier in the week, and finds it so compromised again, is due as much to India’s strength of character as Australia’s weaknesses.

On Friday, Siraj’s three Tests made him the attack leader, a mantle he took on with pride. There was a period shortly after lunch in which he’d bowled one-third of India’s overs for the day, an unsustainable level of output for an old-ball specialist but an effort that showed his willingness to put the team first. He was seen marshalling the debutants. He delivered the final delivery of the day, a fast bouncer that sailed well over Tim Paine’s head but also made a statement: I won’t fade away.

If not unicorns, Indian fast bowlers who can re-shape Tests in Australia have been atypical. This summer we have seen two — Jasprit Bumrah and Siraj — and they have elevated the contest to something special. It has also inspired the next in line.

T Natarajan and Shardul Thakur are net bowlers by comparison, but that is also the point: last in line, at the end of an arduous tour, they took key wickets on Friday and showed this Indian squad has seemingly endless reserves of perseverance.

And it can only be such intangible qualities keeping India in this match. In the 80th over, as shadows crept across the pitch, Cameron Green bunted a regulation caught-and-bowled chance to Shardul.

He dropped it, of course. Consistency can have its drawbacks, too.

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Damien Cook’s fitness crucial for NSW Blues due to depleted dummy-half options


When asked about the rake replacements after training on Monday, Cook nominated Parramatta’s Brown.

“‘Browny’ could probably jump in there, and he is built low to the ground like me,” Cook said.

Who replaces Damien Cook should he go down injured?Credit:Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

“He might have been told that. All the bench players have been told to be ready for anything. I think Browny may have even spent a bit of time there for City [Origin].

“The other option is to put Cody at dummy half, move Jack to five-eighth and Isaah Yeo into the centres. There are a few options.”

Cook is regarded as one of the fittest players in the game and among the most durable. He felt no extra pressure to stay healthy given how quickly the dummy-half stocks thin out.

Fittler knows he can cover every position – Wighton can play in the halves, Clint Gutherson can play fullback, even Angus Crichton played a World Club Challenge clash as a centre – but the No.9 is precious cargo. Murray was always considered the contingency plan, but injured his hamstring in Adelaide.

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Such is his faith in Cook that Fittler ignored picking Penrith’s Api Koroisau in the extended squad with Cam McInnes the only recognised dummy-half in camp, but also someone who has been used more as a lock forward in recent times.

“I get a lot of confidence and belief out of the guys around me,” Cook said.

“I’ve simplified my game plan a lot. I understand I can use everyone around me. If you look at the talent here, my job is based on defending well, good execution, and if I see an opportunity to back myself. I’ve simplified that part of it.

“I’ve been pretty good [health wise]. I got a good whack to the nuts last week, but that was it. Munster scored a try, so it hurt even more. His ankle flicked up and got me.”

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Depleted Eagles guts out win to leave Saints precariously placed


Without a host of key players, West Coast has recorded a gutsy 15-point win over St Kilda to seal a finals berth and maintain their push for a top four finish.

The Saints looked to have gained control in the final quarter before the Eagles – led by Tim Kelly and Nic Naitanui – rallied to kick the last four goals of the match.

Max King and Brad Hill will rue costly misses which would have put St Kilda two goals up with all the momentum in a dour, low-scoring contest.

But the experience of the Eagles came to the fore with Kelly (29 disposals and nine clearances), Naitanui (18 disposals, nine clearances, 33 hit-outs) and
Andrew Gaff (33 disposals) standing up when it mattered most.

The loss leaves the Saints precariously placed ahead of a do-or-die clash against GWS which will decide their finals fate.

It was West Coast’s fifth game in 19 days.

Here’s everything you need to know!

The Talking Point: McGovern injury a blow for Eagles

West Coast will be sweating over Jeremy McGovern’s hamstring injury.

The four-time All-Australian copped an early knock to head before hurting his right hamstring during the second quarter.

“He’s done a hamstring. Not much we can do about it,” Eagles coach Adam Simpson told Channel Seven at half-time.

Already without Elliot Yeo, Luke Shuey, Dom Sheed and Jack Redden, the loss of
McGovern is a further blow for West Coast leading into finals.

Did the Saints make a mistake at selection?

St Kilda’s decision to overlook key defender Jake Carlisle raised eyebrows.

Carlisle was expected to come in to help quell West Coast’s triple threat of Josh Kennedy, Jack Darling and Oscar Allen.

The Saints looked undersized in defence against the Eagles’ tall timber with Kennedy, Darling and Allen kicking five goals between them.

Tim Watson and Garry Lyon discussed Carlisle on SEN Breakfast with Watson believing it could be an attitude problem behind his non-selection.

Carlisle is out of contract at the end of the season.

What’s next?

St Kilda must beat the Giants next Friday night if they’re any chance of making the finals, while West Coast will hope to clinch a top four finish when they meet North Melbourne next Thursday night.

FULL SCORE
St Kilda: 3.5, 3.5, 3.9, 6.14 (50)
West Coast: 2.1, 5.6, 5.9, 9.11 (65)

GOALS
St Kilda: Ryder, Membrey, Lonie, Ross, Butler, Marshall
West Coast: Darling 2, Allen 2, Kennedy, Ryan, Gaff, Kelly, Cole

BEST
St Kilda: Steele, Clark, Ryder, Howard
West Coast: Kelly, Naitanui, Gaff, Barrass, Ryan

Reports: Nil

Injuries
St Kilda: Nil
West Coast: McGovern (hamstring)


St Kilda


West Coast Eagles








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Southern Districts spark upset over depleted Sydney University


“It was an intense battle minute one to 80,” said Southern Districts skipper Tim Metcher. “We were able to claw our way back. What a way to finish the game. A game like this really shows that the heart of club rugby in Australia is well and truly thriving. This is a great day for the Shute Shield.”

When the sides met last year the Students prevailed 47-24. Their last loss in first grade came 414 days ago in a 22-21 defeat to Warringah.

Meanwhile, the Students’ preparation was thrown into disarray after 12 of their players were forced to self-isolate.

It is understood a group of players visited a Newcastle bar after their match with the Hunter Wildfires on August 1 and were informed by health officials they would need to stay at home for the next 14 days after coming into close contact with a positive coronavirus case.

The two-time reigning Shute Shield premiers have excellent depth across the grades but would have loved to call on a number of contracted Waratahs players to bolster their stocks against another undefeated side.

However, the Super Rugby AU “bubble” prevented that from occurring.

Paddy Ryan in action for Sydney University.

Paddy Ryan in action for Sydney University. Credit:Karen Watson

In March, a University player contracted COVID-19, resulting in more than 100 people who also attended a function that followed the Australian Club Championship being required to self-isolate.

The latest headache is terrible luck for the club, who sent an SOS to former Waratahs prop Paddy Ryan.

The 32-year-old, who left NSW after the 2018 Super Rugby season to take up a contract with San Diego in Major League Rugby, got through plenty of work in a tough grind for forwards on both sides.

University broke a 27-minute deadlock when Kane sliced through a hole before throwing a crisp left-to-right pass that skipper Tim Clements finished off down the right edge.

Both sides traded tries as Southern Districts winger Apaola Tea Lama crashed over after the half-time siren to level scores 14-14 at the break.

Southern Districts hooker Joe Cotton, who had a one-off appearance for the Waratahs against the Rebels three weeks, burrowed over from the back of a driving maul to give the visitors a real chance.

Meanwhile, Gordon’s hot run continued on Saturday as they put Manly to the sword by 23 points.

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Under coach Darren Coleman, Gordon have now registered a bonus point in every one of their four wins.

The Hunter Wildfires fell 50-10 to Northern Suburbs and were unable to back up last week’s draw against Manly, Eastwood thumped the Western Sydney Two Blues 57-14, Randwick annihilated Penrith 59-3, while Warringah prevailed 28-14 against West Harbour.

Shute Shield round five results

Sydney University 31-32 Southern Districts
Manly 3-26 Gordon
Norths 50-10 Hunter Wildfires
Two Blues 14-57 Eastwood
Randwick 59-3 Penrith
Warringah 28-14 West Harbour

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