According to stats guru Ric Finlay, not since 1880 have Australia faced an attack with fewer wickets than the 13 of India’s inexperienced attack.
Missing their first-choice combination after Jasprit Bumrah was ruled out, the Indians suffered another blow when speedster Navdeep Saini broke down with a groin injury in the middle session. He did not return to the bowling crease.
Australia, however, could not make their stricken opponents pay full freight for their misfortune. At 5-274, the game is evenly poised, though Labuschagne believes his team has the “slight edge”.
“Everyone [Australian players] will look at their dismissal and see what they could have done better,” Labuschagne, who made 108, said.
“I’m definitely disappointed not to go on and get a really big score which would have put us in a better position as a team. We still take the position we’re in.”
The mind is still willing for India but less so the body – though it was their hands that let them down most. Stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane may well wonder what could have been if he had held on to a regulation chance at gully when Labuschagne was on 37 – the first of his two lives. All-rounder Cameron Green, on 19, was also grassed.
The Queenslander’s knock is the difference between Australia approaching the second day with confidence as opposed to apprehension.
Now the owner of five tons from his past nine Tests, Labuschagne still has a way to go to reach the 30 tons predicted by his batting mentor Neil D’Costa but there is little doubt he now belongs among the top echelon of batsmen.
It was somewhat fitting Shane Warne was on calling duties as an emotional Labuschagne raised his bat just a week after being mocked by the leg-spin great and Andrew Symonds for his eccentricities.
“Fantastic player, Marnus Labuschagne,” Warne said on Fox Cricket. “He just seems to be getting better and better. We talk about the big three – [Virat] Kohli, [Steve] Smith, [Kane] Williamson – but this man’s not far behind them. He’s a very, very good player.”
Australia had several opportunities to ram home their advantage but lost wickets in limp fashion, Steve Smith included.
The superstar batsman was in disbelief after becoming Washington Sundar’s maiden Test wicket, caught clipping a half-volley straight to mid-wicket. Smith played a role in his former IPL teammate’s development but that will have been of little consolation with the chance of a big score wasted.
“I think that he was thinking that it was too easy. And that’s this wicket. It can bite you if you’re not making good decisions. Clean, crisp decisions and having that ruthless ability, as Smith does so often, to just bat and bat long,” former Test great Matthew Hayden said on Channel Seven.
“And it’s hurt this Australian batting line-up the entire series, with the exception of the one terrific 100. Justin Langer would be tearing what little of his hair he has out because there has been so many times that this side has had the ability to be able to go on and post a big first-innings total and it just hasn’t.
“And I think a lot of it is exactly around that point – that comfort zone that they’re in. All things are good in the conditions, they’re dominant. And they just take it for granted, they lose that edge just a little bit.”
The same could be said for Matthew Wade, who made 45 before again giving away his wicket. The wicketkeeper turned frontline batsman has appeared comfortable most times this series but, after no scores above 50, has left his place in the XI vulnerable.
“If he fails in this Test match I think you put a pen through him,” former selector Mark Waugh said on Fox. “It’s a big four or five days for Matthew Wade.”
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Andrew Wu writes on cricket and AFL for The Sydney Morning Herald
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