Australia awaits the return of the misfiring engine room as Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne seek normal service.

Australia awaits the return of the misfiring engine room as Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne seek normal service.

A single fifty-plus score from Australia’s major guys is one of the main reasons why the Ashes are still in play.

Australia wait on misfiring engine-room as Steve Smith, Marnus Labuschagne seek return to normal service

When Steve Smith flicked recklessly to midwicket,

When Steven Smith flicked recklessly to midwicket, he whipped his head back in response to what Jonny Bairstow had shouted rushing around from behind the stumps. Marnus Labuschagne had collapsed to his knees moments before, scarcely able to drag himself from the center of Headingley after slog-sweeping to deep midwicket.

It took only a few minutes for England to win the third Test, albeit there were a couple more twists to follow. Smith and Labuschagne’s annoyance was palpable, having “gifted” their wickets to Moeen Ali, in Moeen Ali’s words. So far, the Ashes have been a series in which both have fallen short of their lofty expectations.

In their 12 innings, they have only scored one score of more over 50 – Smith’s stunning first-innings century at Lord’s, which contributed significantly to Australia’s victory. It’s worth noting, however, that Smith also had a century in the World Test Championship final against India. The Edgbaston Test was a rare instance in which both players failed collectively with 35 runs in the match, despite Australia winning.

Smith had an Ashes average of 59.68 (65.08 in England), including the massive 774-run series in 2019, and Labuschange had an Ashes average of 45.86, so their respective outputs of 31.66 and 24.00 heading into Old Trafford is a big success story for England’s attack. Labuschagne’s current streak of eight innings without a half-century is his longest in Tests.

“I think both of those guys may have moved their hotel pillows into the nets over the last couple of days, based on the amount of time they’ve been spending in there,” Pat Cummins speculated. “They’re both top-tier players who don’t miss many opportunities.” They’re both looking fantastic. This trip, Steve has two hundreds…As usual, I have high hopes for him.”

Despite the sweep against Moeen, England’s success against Labuschagne has largely been achieved by pushing the outside edge and encouraging him to play balls he would otherwise leave, whereas Smith’s dismissals have been more diverse.

Stuart Broad’s outswinger got things started at Edgbaston by dismissing Labuschagne for a first-ball duck. Broad outdid himself the second time around, and threw in Smith for good measure late in the fourth day. Smith had earlier been lbw to a bail-trimmer from Ben Stokes on the same ground where he had struck twin hundreds four years earlier.

On to Lord’s, and it appeared as if the two may form one of their enormous partnerships. But, having hit 102, Ollie Robinson discovered Labuschagne’s outer edge. Labuschagne couldn’t believe it as he swatted a wide long hop from Jimmy Anderson to point in the second inning. Meanwhile, Smith became a victim of the short-ball barrage as he found deep square leg.

In the first innings at Headingley, Labuschagne was given a working-over by Mark Wood, facing 18 balls without scoring a run off him before edging Chris Woakes to slip. Meanwhile, Smith, in his 100th Test, couldn’t capitalize on a life lost to Bairstow when he quickly got an inside edge against Broad. Then there was the duo’s double blunder against Moeen. Again, Wood had been on the other extreme of the spectrum.

Australia awaits the return of the misfiring engine room as Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne seek normal service.
Marnus Labuschagne and Steven Smith, in conversation with Andy Flower, have ‘moved their hotel pillows into the nets’, according to Pat Cummins

“When you have someone bowling like Woody, as fast as he does, and the partnerships you have as a bowling group, Woody might not be the one getting wickets, but they fall at the other end,” Stokes explained. “You can look at 10-over spells and the person on the other end could get two for whatever reason and Woody might not get any, but the wicket definitely sometimes comes from the pressure applied on the other end.”

Smith stated that his personal historic outing had played a role. “Honestly, I needed a break,” he told Unplayable. “It was a mentally draining week, with emotions flying around at what I’d accomplished.” I don’t want to think about things like that, but it was a significant milestone for me.

“I certainly didn’t feel as alert as I would have liked out there in the middle.” It was refreshing, and I feel much more mentally focused this week. Aside from that, it was simply an odd week for some reason.”

When you include David Warner, who has blended useful contributions with a return to his 2019 troubles, three senior figures in Australia’s top six have produced just two fifty-plus runs in 18 innings.

“That’s been Australia’s issue so far,” Mark Taylor wrote in a piece for the Sydney Morning Herald and Age. “They just haven’t made enough runs, with England doing a good job of keeping them down.”

Despite making consecutive starts, Labuschagne has appeared abnormally ill-at-ease throughout the series and, as is his desire, has spent a lot of time tinkering in the nets. England is satisfied with their progress so far, but they are scared of what is yet to come.

“We obviously did something right to prevent Marnus from going on and making those big scores that he’s been able to do in his career so far,” Stokes said. “But you don’t read too much into stuff like that against world-class players.” “There’s a reason he averages 55 in Test cricket; he’s a quality player.” But we’ve been very good at communicating our plans to him, so hopefully we can do the same and he doesn’t get a huge one this week.

Smith may easily return to his stride. His centuries at The Oval and Lord’s were outstanding performances. When he returned from concussion in 2019, he hit 211 and 82 at Old Trafford to help Australia retain the Ashes.

“Great players are always due, and they are due some runs,” stated Moeen. “Smith clearly performed admirably at Lord’s. He’s amazing and extremely difficult to play against, so when you see the back of him, especially early on, you always feel like you’ve done a fantastic job as a team. However, as an opponent, you know it’s just around the corner for players like them. You hope that doesn’t happen, but it’s one of the reasons I believe the series has been so tight, because we’ve managed to keep them relatively quiet.”


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