How Sheer Guts And A Brand New Cricket Rule Saved Australia
At any time during the first 142 Years of Test cricket, it's safe to say Australia would have lost this game.
Pressure, hostile England bowling, and the lack of a batsman to replace the injured Steve Smith would have combined to do us in.
But Australia saved the second Ashes Test at Lord’s, and maintained its 1-0 series lead, thanks to the guts and dedication of super-sub Marnus Labuschagne, who was only playing on day five thanks to a major change to cricket laws.
On August 1, international cricket’s governing body, the ICC, brought in new playing conditions that allow a player who has suffered a concussion in the game to be replaced by a similar sort of player.
Going into day five, many thought Steve Smith would be right to bat, including Smith himself. But he woke feeling dizzy after his blow on the neck from Jofra Archer, and was ruled out.
Enter Marnus Labuschagne. The 25-year-old Queenslander, who was born and grew up in South Africa, became the first Australian -- and indeed the first man -- to start any Test match as a spectator and end up as a participant.
And he didn’t waste his chance.
Labuschagne, a batting all-rounder who also bowls very handy leg-spin, top-scored for Australia in the second innings with 59 dogged runs -- despite being hit on the grille of his helmet by that man Jofra Archer on just his second ball.
But his score was relatively inconsequential compared to the 100 balls faced in two-and-a-quarter hours at the crease.
Thanks to his fighting innings and Travis Head’s stoic 42 not out, Australia occupied enough time out in the middle to hang on for a draw, after both openers failed to register a significant score for the fourth time in this series.
Interestingly, Labuschagne said he’s spent a fair amount of time talking with Smith about his batting, and even trains obsessively in his hotel room like Smith does.
"I've had a few discussions with Smudge,” he said.
“I think we are both quite cricket nuffs. I love batting in my room, tapping the ball up, so there's always questions floating around about who’s tapping the bat at 11 o'clock at night.”
The question now is not who'll be playing cricket ball keepy uppy in the hotel room, but who will bat for Australia in three days, when the next Test starts in Headingley, Leeds.
There’s no official word yet from the Aussie camp on Smith's availability, although the strong suggestions are that he'll sit this one out. At least we know there’s a bloke ready to step in. Marnus Labuschagne might not yet have the pedigree of Smith, but he definitely appears to have the ticker.
As for Australia’s openers, we definitely have a problem there. Marcus Harris appears likely to be brought in for the struggling Cameron Bancroft. Alternatively, if Smith plays, Usman Khawaja could take Bancroft’s opening spot to accommodate Labuschagne in the middle order.
Earlier in today's match, England reached 5/258 in its second innings, led by a bold 115 not out from man-of-the-match Ben Stokes.
Australia had a One Day-style chase of 267 from 48 overs but ended up at 6/154 when hostilities ceased as the clock beat both teams.