Bad light stops play after Aussies lay solid foundation against Proteas
The annoyance South Africa felt upon falling foul of a disputed slips catch off Marnus Labuschagne was exceeded only by the frustrations inflicted by Sydney’s traditional new year damp that restricted day one of the third NRMA Insurance Test to just 47 of a scheduled 90 overs.
Under a persistent blanket of thick cloud that made poor light more problematic than occasional showers, Australia absorbed early pressure then made steady progress before the late removal of Labuschagne left them 147-2 when stumps were drawn at 5.50pm.
Usman Khawaja’s enduring fondness for the SCG will continue on day two when he resumes unbeaten on 54, alongside Steve Smith (yet to face a ball) with Australia’s batting line-up facing the prospect of an illness-related reshuffle.
The visitors might have felt a belated sense of justice when Labuschagne fell to an Anrich Nortje 145kph thunderbolt that grazed the outside edge of his bat one ball before umpires decreed it was too dark for batters to be confronted by fast bowlers.
While it was a tough call for Australia’s number three who appeared set for his fourth century of another stunning Test summer – but the first against the country of his birth – the late strike salved some of the simmering anger among the Proteas.
The cause of that unrest was the disputed catch that came when Labuschagne reached 70, and edged a delivery from left-armer Marco Jansen low to Simon Harmer standing deep at slip who claimed it low to the ground but clearly of the view he had clasped it cleanly.
Despite on-field umpire Paul Reiffel signalling his belief it was a fair catch when calling for off-field clarification, third official Richard Kettleborough undertook a painstaking review before settling on a single video frame he believed showed the ball had touched the ground as the catch was completed.
While scarcely a smoking gun, it was sufficient for Kettleborough to overturn the on-field verdict to the undisguised anger of South Africa with keeper Kyle Verreynne and opener Sarel Erwee engaging in a lengthy and spirited discussion with Labuschagne before he resumed his innings.
In his defence, Labuschagne was equally adamant from the outset he was not out and felt vindicated by the final ruling.
But the continued deterioration of the afternoon light, then the onset of rain shortly before 3pm meant both teams had more than two hours to stew on the incident prior to Labuschagne resuming an innings that until that controversial moment had produced barely a false stroke.
No sooner had Labuschagne trudged disconsolately from the field amid gathering gloom, to be replaced at the crease by Smith, umpires upheld the observation aired several times during the day by Khawaja that conditions were too gloomy and play was halted for the day.
As it transpired, the barely 200 minutes of playing time threw up more than its share of talking points.
Matthew Renshaw’s return to Test ranks after a hiatus of almost five years proved bittersweet as the Queenslander returned a positive COVID-19 result shortly after play began and spent the day distanced from fellow players, officials and the 31,264 fans although he remains involved in the match.
Renshaw was one of three changes to Australia’s starting XI from last week, along with spin-bowling all-rounder Ashton Agar and seamer Josh Hazlewood replacing injured duo Mitchell Starc and Cameron Green, while Scott Boland was omitted. (Cricket Australia)