Labuschagne and Smith centuries power Australia into commanding position

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Australian cricket’s odd couple have combined for their finest hour together, with Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne centuries putting Australia in control of the second Test against Sri Lanka.

On a dominant day for the duo, Labuschagne scored his first Test ton outside of Australia with 103 before Smith finished unbeaten on 109 with Australia 5-298 at stumps.

Long regarded as Australia’s best two batters, Friday incredibly marked the first time the pair have scored a century in the same innings together.

It came as the pair combined for a crucial 134-run third-wicket partnership, that took the day away from Sri Lanka and gave Australia control.

Ravaged by COVID-19 in the lead up to the Test, Sri Lanka’s spinners endured a difficult day with only debutant Prabath Jayasuriya having any real success with 3-90.

The left-arm orthordox spinner was the man to finally remove Labuschagne when he had him stumped, before getting Cameron Green lbw on the sweep for four and bowling Travis Head on 12.

But as a general rule Sri Lanka’s spinners struggled for consistency with their lengths, offering up too many loose balls on a Galle wicket far friendlier for batting than in the first Test.

Smith in particular made use of the errors in length, driving superbly through both the covers and through mid-on.

While Australia’s other batters had made a point to play square and quickly, Smith was patient and waited for loose balls before punching them down the ground.

Without a century since January 2021, the former captain produced one of his classic Test innings to help put Australia in charge.

On one of the few times a ball beat Smith’s bat, the right-hander gave an immediate thumbs-up down the wicket to debutant Prabath Jayasuriya.

But moments like that were few and far between on Friday.

The vice-captain also produced arguably the best two shots of the day, twice punching Jayasuriya to the long-on boundary.

Ten of his 13 boundaries came down the ground, showing a far greater willingness than his teammates to play straight on turning decks.

Smith had maintained in recent months that his longest drought since his first Test ton in 2013 had not been playing on his mind.

But the joy was evident to see when he brought up his century, driving  Kasun Rajitha through the covers and raising his arms aloft after hugging teammate Alex Carey.

Smith had also made clear he looked forward to batting under pressure again and on the spinning Sri Lankan wickets, after runs had been scored around him in recent years.

Labuschagne, meanwhile, was strong square of the wicket, cutting anything wide of the off-stump and also being willing to come over the top of the ball and sweep the spinners.

Marnus Labuschagne celebrates a century.

Marnus Labuschagne of Australia celebrates after reaching his century on Day 1 of the second Test against Sri Lanka. (Photo by Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images)

But the story could have been so different for Sri Lanka, had Niroshan Dickwella not fumbled a simple stumping on 28.

Dickwella had all the time to catch the right-hander short of his ground, but the ball went to ground and Labuschagne was let off the hook.

“It’s first morning of Test, it’s a nice flat wicket,” Australia’s former wicketkeeper Brad Haddin said on the local commentary.

“He has just assumed Marnus Labuschagne is going to hit that ball. His eyes were on the batsman, they weren’t on the ball.

“He has relaxed a little bit. That’s little moments as a wicketkeeper. It can cost you a wicket but it can also cost you a Test match.”

At that point Australia were 2-78 after David Warner (5) and Usman Khawaja (37) went in the first session.

But Labsuchagne proceeded to hit two boundaries off the next over as he began to capitalise on the error.

Dickwella eventually stumped him 76 runs later, but by then the damage had been done.

“It’s nice to get that one off the back, the first one away from home and to contribute,” Labuschagne said of his century at stumps.

“It’s not something you sit there and think about all the time. 

“But it’s definitely something reporters (bring up) and the media beat everything up a bit. 

“It’s nice to score runs in different conditions and show people that you can play in not just bouncy, seaming or swinging conditions, but against spin as well.”

© AAP



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