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Ashes T3-D1: David Warner and Marnus Labuschagne ensure Australia has fighting total on day one of Ashes Test at Leeds

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Ashes: Warner, Labuschagne give Australia a fighting chance
Ashes T3-D1: David Warner and Marnus Labuschagne ensure Australia has fighting total on day one of Ashes Test at Leeds

Without the concussed Steve Smith's piles of runs in the third Ashes Test, a couple of things had to go right.

One, David Warner had to step up as the senior batsman and provide a score of his own.

Two, Smith's replacement Marnus Labuschagne had to continue the passable impersonation he had managed in the second Test at Lord's.

On the first day at Headingley, against a seriously testing barrage of swing bowling under the deeply cloudy Yorkshire skies, both of those things went Australia's way.

The part that didn't was that the other nine batsmen made 31 runs between them.

It has seemed faintly ridiculous that various media outlets have been questioning Warner's form after low scores in two matches. Opening the batting can be Russian roulette, and never more so than in England where the new ball moves.

Warner has survived nearly a decade at the top of the order, paring back his previously expansive approach to prosper to the tune of 21 Test centuries.

This must have been one of his toughest examinations, after England chose to bowl in perfect swing conditions, then had the start of the match delayed another hour and more by rain.

By the time play began, with Stuart Broad belting down the Headingley slope and Jofra Archer up it, both bowlers were moving the ball wickedly. From around the wicket, Broad was angling it in to the left-hander then swinging it away, adding some serious seam movement into the equation.

Marcus Harris hit a couple of boundaries on his return to the team then nicked Archer for 8. The skill of the delivery was marked by Archer's casual glance over his shoulder to make sure the umpire's finger had gone up, belatedly enough to show complete cool.

Just to rub it in, Harris was accompanied off the pitch by more rain. When play resumed Usman Khawaja was beaten by plenty of good ones before tickling Broad's worst delivery down leg side.

At the other end, ball after ball was just too good, zooming past the outside edge. But Warner didn't let that distract him. You could see a bit of his old batting partner Chris Rogers in the way he defended his stumps down the line of the ball and resisted chasing any movement. If it beat him, so be it.

There was still an intensity to the way Warner remained compact, rarely playing in front of his pad or outside off stump. He let the ball come to him and played as late as possible, under his eyes. That let him control the strokes that he did have to hit.

The one that stood out was to a very full straight ball angled into him that started out as a digging defence before the ball vanished from the stumps to the cover boundary. The briefest punch that Warner played was barely there at all, more ascetic than aesthetic, a shot defined by its absence.

With the compactness, it was like Warner was acting out his low-profile tactic from off the field that he has pursued since his suspension from playing in 2018. He was making himself as small as possible and trying to get through.

At the same time, he worked the ball into the gaps, hanging back in the crease and squeezing runs through gully or taps to cover, taking singles with frequency and twos where possible. That running put pressure on England in the field, drawing two overthrows that both went to the boundary.

More delays for rain and light limited play to 18 overs by the tea break, but the day and the scoring opened up thereafter. By the time Warner was out with the score on 136, Australia's run rate was nearing 4.5 an over. After the torrid start it was remarkable how he had managed it with nary a wild shot played.

He had found a willing ally in Labuschagne, who was substituted in for Smith in the second innings of the previous Test and continued his fill-in duties with aplomb.

Archer tried some short bowling as he had at Lord's, but Labuschagne continued swaying out of the way without fuss. He scored strongly through the leg side, and recovered eventually from a brutal full-contact hit to the groin from Broad.

Most notably, Labuschagne has failed to look overawed by either of the thoroughly intimidating situations he has faced. With the skies slate grey, umpires checking the light meters, and a hefty local crowd giving voice, the new man stayed serene.

As he did when Archer returned in concert with Broad, and finally produced a jaffa sufficient to get Warner for 61: steep bounce, pace, and movement away from the left-hander that snicked his edge through to the keeper.

When the third-wicket partnership had passed a hundred, it looked like England had blundered in not batting first. But abruptly all of that changed.

Broad bowled an absolute beauty to Travis Head, again angling in to a left-hander before leaving him and ticking the outside of his off stump. Matthew Wade was unlucky when Archer whacked his thigh pad and spun the ball back onto the stumps.

Labuschagne carried on as the wickets fell, working his way up to 74 before the clock got the better of him. Minutes away from the delayed close at 7:30 pm, with the dark encroaching, he missed a high full toss from Ben Stokes that would have dipped down to hit middle stump.

Archer picked up the final wicket to signal the day's end with 6 for 45, and while his bowling at Lord's hadn't been enough to force a win, his bowling here could well set one up.

Unlike Lord's he soon forgot about the short ball, doing his damage at a more moderate pace and with a fuller length. Edges can do more damage than bouncers.

After being knocked over for 179 Australia are behind in the game, but their own potent bowling could yet level things with conditions to suit. After the summer we've seen, and the way this first day tilted one way and then the other, you wouldn't dare write it off.

For Australia, what matters is that they got what they needed. From the senior batsman and from the replacement, when the hour of need arose, they got just enough to keep them in with a chance.

'News Story' Author : Staff-Editor-02

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