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Smith and bowlers put Australia in box seat against England

17 Dec, 2021
Australia's stand-in skipper Steven Smith reacts after reaching his half century. Reuters
Australia's stand-in skipper Steven Smith reacts after reaching his half century. Reuters

Australia declared their first innings on 473-9 and then reduced England to 17-2 after a near-flawless evening session to take charge of the day-night second Ashes test on Friday.

Stand-in skipper Steve Smith fell agonisingly short of his hundred but Alex Carey smashed 51 and lower-order batsmen Michael Neser and Mitchell Starc produced breezy cameos before they declared their innings.

England lost both their openers cheaply before bad weather brought the second day's play to an early close at the Adelaide Oval.

England captain Joe Root was batting on five and Dawid Malan on one with the tourists facing an uphill task to stay alive in the pink-ball contest.

Earlier, England brought out the big guns, Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, to open the bowling on a hot and overcast day.

Australia began cautiously with Marnus Labuschagne finally clinching his sixth test century after 54 balls in the nervous nineties.

Two balls later, it looked all over as the 27-year-old was caught behind but television footage showed bowler Ollie Robinson's foot was fractionally over the crease and the batsman, who had been dropped twice during his knock, was recalled.

One run later, however, Robinson had his revenge, trapping Labuschagne lbw for 103 off 305 balls.

Travis Head made 18 before Joe Root bowled him and Ben Stokes claimed his second wicket when he pegged back the off-stump of Cameron Green (two).

Carey got his fifty but Smith, leading the side in the absence of Pat Cummins who missed the test having been a close contact of a positive Covid-19 case, fell lbw to James Anderson after a patient 93.

Labuschagne paid tribute to Smith for leading by example.

"Steve has handled it very well, it’s not new to him," the top order batsman said.

"It’s nice to see him in that leadership role. From a team dynamic I don’t think anything has changed. It’s the first time he has captained me."

Neser shines

It was an enthralling post-tea spell, more T20 than test cricket, for the crowd who had sat through a largely slow and predictable two days.

Michael Neser, on his test debut, blasted 35 off 24 balls while Starc remained not out after a run-a-ball 39.

The onslaught meant that England openers Rory Burns and Haseeb Hameed took to the field with a previously-dulled crowd now whipped into a frenzy.

Australia fielded aggressively against both batsmen with four slips and just one player on the boundary.

Burns (four) fell first, to Starc, with Smith taking the catch at second slip.

Neser made it a session to remember by clinching his maiden test wicket, as Hameed (six) was caught by Starc at mid on.

"We are all so happy for him, with what he has done for the last four years in Shield cricket,” Labuschagne said.

"It’s so exciting to see him take that first one and it can give him the confidence to come back tomorrow and lock into his bowling.