Labuschagne sparkles on curtailed opening day

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Labuschagne put on 135 for the second wicket with Usman Khawaja (54*)
Labuschagne put on 135 for the second wicket with Usman Khawaja (54*) © Getty

Marnus Labuschagne continued to ride his rich vein of form, scoring a stroke-filled 79 on a curtailed opening day of the New Year's Test in Sydney that saw only 47 overs of play. Australia's No.3 put on 135 for the second wicket with Usman Khawaja (54*) before he was dismissed in the final session. Moments later, umpires took the players off the field one more time, this time due to a steady drizzle.

The traditional start of the year - 'Pink Test' - began under overcast conditions but both captains expected the SCG surface to play like a subcontinent track as evidenced by each captain picking an extra spinner in the XI. Pat Cummins, who welcomed back Ashton Agar, Matt Renshaw and Josh Hazlewood into the XI, based his decision to bat on what he saw on the ground below than in the skies above.

Despite the toss advantage, there were a couple of early setbacks for the hosts. First, the Renshaw, returning after a near five-year spell out of the XI, tested positive for Covid just before the anthems. David Warner, their double centurion from the last Test, was then dismissed cheaply when he slashed at a wide delivery from Anrich Nortje to slip.

Labuschagne was dragged to the crease inside the fourth over with the ball swinging for both Nortje and Kagiso Rabada. Labuschagne was uncharacteristically circumspect to start his innings, scoring just eight runs from the first 39 balls he faced before making the most of South Africa's errant lengths. He short-arm pulled a ball from Nortje and then slashed away another from Rabada. The short ball was clearly not working on the slowish surface and the visitors were guilty of bowling only five deliveries that were projected to hit the stumps in the first 22 overs.

Spin made an appearance late into the session and while Khawaja got a freebie from Keshav Maharaj, Simon Harmer proved he could be quite a handful in the two overs he sent down before the interval. He spun one sharply past the left-hander's bat and then found the edge in the next over, only for it to fly past the stationed slip fielder.

However, any notion of Australia being dominated by spin was yanked out of the window in the post-Lunch period. Having made a circumspect start, Labuschagne laid into the two spinners, hitting as many as six boundaries in the first eight overs after the break. The sweep was the most productive of his shots and Maharaj, in particular, bore the brunt of it despite an off and middle line. Khawaja, at the other end, was industrious, if not as adventurous as his partner. He was adjudged LBW to Harmer straight after the break but knew he had gloved the ball onto his legs and had the decision overturned. He may have hit only six fours to Labuschagne's 13 but played a big part in negating any little advantage spin might have had on this pitch.

Elgar was forced to summon his quicks, who in fairness seemed most likely to get him the breakthrough. Rabada struck Labuschagne on the chest with a pacy quick ball and Marco Jansen seemed to have had his man nicking to first slip from around the stumps. But South Africa were denied the breakthrough by the television umpire, who deemed he had conclusive evidence to overturn the soft signal and reprieve Labuschagne on 70.

Exactly an hour into the second session, the light meter made its first of many appearances and the umpires dragged the players into the pavilion for an early Tea. The teams did return an hour and a half later at 15:45 Local Time before another reading of the light meter sent them right back in. One hour later, there was time for four overs of play, in which the impressive Nortje pushed Labuschagne back with a series of pacy, back-of-a-length deliveries before nicking him off with one that angled in and shaped away. A slight drizzle arrived just as Labuschagne walked off, effectively forcing the umpires to call Stumps on the opening day's play.

Brief scores: Australia 147/2 (Marnus Labuschagne 79, Usman Khawaja 54*; Anrich Nortje 2-26) vs South Africa