Smith, Labuschagne steady Australia as openers fall

Brisbane (Australia) (AFP) –


An unbeaten 48-run partnership between Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne steadied the ship for Australia after they lost both openers cheaply on day one of the fourth Test against India on Friday.

After Australia captain Tim Paine won the toss and chose to bat, Smith and Labuschagne settled themselves on a good batting wicket following the early dismissals of David Warner and Marcus Harris.

Smith was not out on 30 and Labuschagne 19 as the home side ended the first session on 65 for two.

With the four-Test series locked at 1-1, India went into the decider Test as massive underdogs following the loss of four players from the third game, which finished on Monday in Sydney.

Pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah (abdomen), off-spinner Ravi Ashwin (back), batsman Hanuma Vihari (hamstring) and all-rounder Ravi Jadeja (broken thumb) were all ruled out.

T. Natarajan and Washington Sundar made their debuts while there were also recalls for Mayank Agarwal and Shardul Thakur.

The entire Indian bowling attack has only nine caps between them, with Mohammad Siraj, playing his third Test, the most experienced.

By contrast, Australia only made one change, with Harris coming in for Will Pucovski, who injured his shoulder while fielding in Sydney.

Yet India got away to the perfect start when Warner fell on the last ball of the first over, edging Siraj to second slip, where Rohit Sharma took a superb catch diving to his right.

Natarajan shared the new ball with Siraj and kept the pressure on with some tight bowling, his opening spell of six overs going for just eight runs.

The pressure eventually told when Thakur, playing just his second Test, struck with his first ball, Harris chipping a simple catch to Sundar at square leg to leave Australia 17 for two.

But Smith and Labuschagne, Australia's saviours in so many recent matches, once again came to the rescue.

Smith, who rocketed back to form with a century in Sydney, was impressive, hitting five fours in his innings, while Labuschagne started slowly but looked more and more comfortable the longer he stayed at the crease.