Marsh Sheffield Shield 2021-22
Labuschagne dominant as Khawaja, Head miss out
Australia’s number three found form after negotiating a tricky Karen Rolton Oval surface, but Test hopefuls Usman Khawaja and Travis Head both fell for single figures
Andrew Ramsey at Karen Rolton Oval
24 November 2021, 08:47 PM AEST
A day after he was peppered with lifting balls from a damp pitch that led umpires to suspend play, Marnus Labuschagne completed a century that shone like a beacon in a bowler-dominated Marsh Sheffield Shield match and led him to declare he's in prime batting shape for next month's Ashes.
Labuschagne's 110 scored across more than five hours in Queensland's total of 299 came in two distinct phases, and its value was underscored when South Australia collapsed to 8-93 at stumps on day two.
Labuschagne copped a brunt of the brutish deliveries that flew from a length on the day one Karen Rolton Oval pitch, and was therefore not unhappy when play was curtailed prematurely yesterday after he'd survived 48 deliveries and scored 21.
While the Test number three - who wore protective padding on his left arm today - was not subjected to a similar workout after overnight repair work to the pitch he was among the procession of batters who paid close attention to a section of the strip about five metres from the southern batting crease.
"Always when you get to score runs in relatively low-scoring games and in tough conditions, it gives you a lot of confidence and excitement about how you played," he said at day's end.
"I'm really excited for the Ashes, I think I've timed the run well and I'm feeling confident about where my game is at the moment."
Labuschagne conceded he was uncomfortable batting on Tuesday afternoon as the ball repeatedly "popped" from the surface that had been subjected to persistent rain in Adelaide on Monday night and the next morning.
But he noted that curator Trent Kelly and his team had done a great job in repairing the pitch last night, and that very few deliveries misbehaved in the way they had done yesterday despite the clatter of wickets with 12 batters dismissed for the addition of 133 runs in today's final 48 overs.
"The work that Trent put into the wicket definitely helped that fuller patch from not popping," Labuschagne said.
"There was maybe three or four today, and they were definitely not as big as on day one.
"We saw a few bounce a bit more and get some nicks.
"All in the all, I think the wicket has really come good."
Certainly the playing surface was scarcely a factor in the dual failures of Test aspirants and rival skippers Usman Khawaja (4 from 17 balls) and Travis Head (8 from 14) who both fell to catches behind the wicket off the inside edges of their respective bats, at the opposite end.
Another eyeing higher honours – SA keeper and Australia A squad member Alex Carey – did even less to advance his cause, caught on the deep mid-wicket fence from a top-edged sweep off left-arm spinner Matt Kuhnemann amid a spectacular top-order collapse in which the Redbacks lost 5-25 in 50 deliveries.
SA could feel aggrieved their two key middle-order wickets were lost to deliveries that could have been called no-balls, given Kuhnemann's back foot strayed beyond the return crease in contravention of the game's laws.
His Queensland teammates call him Jaddu whenever he’s got a ball in his hand on the field. And Matthew Kuhnemann would certainly have made Ravindra Jadeja proud with the way he’s bowled on this Karen Rolton Oval pitch #SheffieldShield #SAvQLD— Bharat Sundaresan (@beastieboy07) November 24, 2021
But they could also point to some careless dismissals for their dire predicament, staring at the likelihood of being forced to follow-on tomorrow.
Play had been suspended after 50 overs on day one – with Queensland 1-87 – after match referee Steve Davis deemed a damp area of roughly one square metre was causing the ball to "stick" in the pitch, which represented a potential danger to batters.
The ornery, unpredictable surface that caused a handful of deliveries to rear off a length on Tuesday afternoon then underwent bouts of shock treatment (administered via short, sharp blows with a tamping tool) and sedation (through a couple of seven-minute stints with a heavy roller).
After sweating through a damp but warm night, it was visited early this morning by a specialist – legendary former Adelaide Oval curator Les Burdett who is also Kelly's father-in-law.
While the initial prognosis appeared positive, the success of the emergency procedure was not fully understood until play resumed at 10am, under heavy cloud and with the threat of further rain looming large.
And when that happened, it became quickly apparent that – for the most part – the patient was resting comfortably.
SA opened up today with seamer Nathan McAndrew, the raw-boned allrounder who bowls at brisk medium-fast and who had caused Labuschagne greatest angst by being able to regularly hit the problem patch the previous evening.
And while McAndrew and his seam-bowling partner Daniel Worrall proved difficult to score from, there was but the occasional hint of the ball misbehaving and that most often manifested as slow, "ballooning" bounce as it stuck in the pitch rather than flying off it at sharp pace and steep angle.
After a watchful first half hour, Labuschagne and in-form opener Bryce Street (also an Australia A squad member) found fluency and rattled along at around five runs an over as both posted half-centuries and SA turned to spin.
"You're thinking about it in the back of your mind," Labuschagne said when asked about resuming his innings today in the wake of yesterday's happenings.
"But after you see maybe four or five balls go through in that area, the confidence comes back.
"So I think probably the first over from McAndrew from the top end, I was hanging back a little bit trying to make sure I could ride the bounce of the ball a bit more if it did pop.
"But after that it gave me a lot of confidence the wicket was a lot better.
"There's so many challenges in that sort of wicket – there's seam there's a bit of uneven bounce, there's spin, so it was a lot of fun."
It was SA's seam-bowling allrounder Liam Scott – who takes the new ball for his Premier Cricket club in Adelaide – who made the breakthrough when Street (87) nicked off after a 124-run second-wicket stand with Labuschagne.
Khawaja's arrival at the crease coincidentally brought the most vicious delivery of the morning session, as Scott got a delivery that landed in the danger zone to rear at the Test squad left-hander who was left smiling ruefully at both bowler and pitch.
Given the ball had weathered 77 overs at that stage, and light rain was beginning to fall leading to the umpires' decision to suspend play for early lunch, there was apprehension in both camps as to how the second new ball might behave after the break.
Again, the fears proved mostly unfounded although Khawaja lost his wicket without adding to his lunch score when he drove airily at a Worrall inswinger with Carey completing a neat catch off the resultant inside edge.
Matthew Renshaw, another member of the Australia A squad for next month's four-day game against England Lions, also fell cheaply but Labuschagne powered on to his second Shield century of the summer in his final first-class hit-out before the Vodafone Ashes.
The 27-year-old reached the milestone with one of a series of deft leg-side tucks off leg spinner Lloyd Pope, but it was an attempt to repeat the ploy against Head's off-spin that saw him drag the ball back on to his stumps as the Bulls' innings went into free-fall.
In the course of 48 balls after Labuschagne reached his ton, Queensland lost 5-16 before last pair Mark Steketee and Kuhnemann put on a breezy 28 in five overs to lift their first innings tally to 299.
SA began brightly with Henry Hunt and opening partner Jake Weatherald cruising to 35 from the first 10 overs against the new ball, but Hunt's dismissal for 12 triggered a remarkable top-order implosion that owed more to the Bulls aggressive bowling than the fickle nature of the Rolton Oval pitch.