Travis Head registered a career-best 175 at Adelaide Oval on Friday, run out just as his home crowd began to anticipate a Test double century. Nonetheless, he was the major contributor to a score of 511 for seven, the declaration coming shortly before the end of the second session in order to give Australia’s bowlers the evening portion of play with a new ball. They made good use of it, having West Indies four wickets down with 102 on the board by stumps, adrift by 409 runs.
The bowling performance with the pink ball was the big point of interest for the home side, with Patrick Cummins and Josh Hazlewood missing with minor injuries. That brought in two different fan favourites. Michael Neser’s first and only Test appearance to date had come in Adelaide a year ago, after he had long been the subject of the online #NeserMustPlay campaign. After that breakthrough he was unlucky to slip from his perch as Australia’s first reserve when Scott Boland did even better, 18 Ashes wickets at 9.55 after being picked in Melbourne.
Now they would play side by side, with the help of the world’s most prolific pink-ball wicket-takers in Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon. Starc and Boland gave West Indies a difficult five overs to negotiate before the second break, Starc swinging the shiny pink Kookaburra appreciably and Boland getting enticing seam movement from an immaculate length. Neser was the one who did the damage though, after Kraigg Brathwaite and Tagenerine Chanderpaul survived the initial exchanges with a sound and disciplined opening partnership.
First he got Brathwaite in the 14th over, then Shamarh Brooks in the 20th, identically dismissed with a tight line on off stump that drew the right-handers into playing before subtle away movement drew a nick behind. It was classic Neser bowling of the sort that has had him in selection discussions for so long, with his release point right next to the stumps and his endlessly consistent line.
Lyon was into the game before drinks and into the wickets afterwards, Jermaine Blackwood aiming a big off-drive before chipping a return catch thanks to turn. It was Lyon’s 57th wicket at Adelaide Oval, the place where his unexpected professional cricket path began when recruited by South Australia all those years ago, and it broke the venue record held by Shane Warne, at a better average and strike rate too. The times have changed: seven of Lyon’s dozen Adelaide Tests have been day-night, mostly in the early season, compared to what was once the habit of long hot January matches where a batting pitch might break up on day five. But despite appearances on those slow days, cricket has never stood still.
Cameron Green got lucky in knocking over Devon Thomas near the close, the batter defending a length ball back onto his stumps after an over of no-balls that had already conceded 17 runs from four legal deliveries. But serenely through it all was Chanderpaul, son of a legend playing a second Test of his own, 47 not out, having played decisively when leaving the ball alone as when choosing to attack it. His swept six from Lyon was calculated, and his treatment of short balls, whether cutting or pulling, remains instinctive and convincing. Nightwatchman Anderson Phillip will walk out with him on the third afternoon.
Earlier, it had been a session for Australia’s remaining batters to do as they pleased. Marnus Labuschagne and Head, both with centuries ticked off the previous evening, played with freedom without the sense of needing to rush as they grew their partnership to 297. Head was the more active, happy to go aerial when the inclination struck, especially severe on Phillip when a line outside off stump offered chances to go through or over a catching cordon made largely notional by the spread field.
Labuschagne fell for 163, an extraordinary catch by Joshua da Silva who by that point was standing up to the stumps for the medium pace of Thomas. The same bowler had a chance missed next ball: after more than 20 hours spectating without getting a hit in this series, Green should have been gone for a golden. But sub fielder Kyle Mayers was too deep at first slip, the ball bouncing in front, and it summed up West Indies’ fitness troubles that a player left out of this match with a shoulder strain had to take the field to cover for another injury.
It was Thomas again with sharp work at fine leg to create the run out, Head turning back for his ground too late after thinking that Green wanted a second run. Alex Carey made a typically busy 41, Neser helped with 18, and by the time Starc was batting the runs no longer mattered. It was all about time, and with Australia declaring just in time for the optimum unsettling bowling burst before the evening break, it was timed to perfection. From the team that plays more day-night Tests than anyone, that was hardly a surprise.