Second Test: Smith, Green battle through to end gritty day three

Brisbane, Jan 27 (UNI) Steve Smith and Cameron Green withstood a late West Indies assault to head to stumps at 2-60 on day three of the second NRMA Insurance Test at the Gabba, leaving Australia needing a further 156 for victory and a two-nil series win.

And the valiant tourists will likely have to make do on Sunday without their outstanding rookie quick Shamar Joseph, who was the victim of a Mitchell Starc yorker while batting, was forced to retire hurt with a very sore big toe, and has not taken part in proceedings since then.

Resuming at 1-13, West Indies had the early running courtesy of No.3 Kirk McKenzie, who seemed to relish Australia’s fuller-pitched approach and drove straight with abandon.

Marnus Labuschagne made no mistake when Kraigg Brathwaite (16) prodded one from Green straight to him at cover, ending a disappointing series with the bat for the Windies skipper.

After 25 overs and with the score at 2-85, Cummins then threw the ball to Nathan Lyon, and the off-spinner struck with his second delivery from the Stanley St end, removing the impressive McKenzie as he tried to sweep and was trapped lbw.

The Windies batsman reviewed the decision but it was to no avail, and Lyon settled in for the long haul, bowling 13 overs unchanged followed by another nine, with just a couple overs’ rest in between the two spells.

The 36-year-old almost had Kavem Hodge in his next over, but a healthy edge raced past Steve Smith and down to the rope for four.

From the other end, the Aussie quicks continued to toil amid the stifling heat, Cummins jagging one back in to the left-handed Alick Athanaze and almost finding an inside edge as he searched for a breakthrough.

At 3-106 and in the shadows of the dinner break, Green very nearly found it. Coming from around the wicket, he brought Athanaze forward and found the edge, which flew towards the cordon.

Smith lunged almost full stretch to his right, and for a split second the ball seemed to stick in the middle of his right mitt, before it fell to the turf with the fielder following after, reported Cricket Australia.

It was a second dropped catch for the innings for Smith but fortunately for him and the Australians it didn’t prove a costly one, as not long into the second session, and having moved from 28 to 35, Athanaze edged once more. This time it was from Lyon, and this time Smith held on.

It was Lyon’s 50th Test wicket at the Gabba (his second most prolific venue after Adelaide, where he has 63) and it put the Lyon-Smith combination at 57 victims – one more than the Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid pairing and trailing only Muthiah Muralidaran and Mahela Jayawardene (77).

After his first-innings 71, Hodge again looked the part as he made his way to 29, playing one of the shots of the match – a stunning straight drive for four from Hazlewood – before he fell victim to a fine piece of reflex work by Travis Head.

With Lyon bowling, Hodge played defensively towards Head at short leg who collected and, as momentum seemed to carry the batter out of his ground, the fielder flicked the ball back instinctively, hitting the stumps and leaving him – as replays confirmed – just short of his ground. It was a cruel blow for a Windies side that was fighting valiantly against the world Test champions, and left them 170 ahead with five wickets in hand.

Worse was to come when first-innings hero Joshua Da Silva (7) edged Starc to Green in the gully, who plucked the ball from well above his head before needing a juggle and a second attempt to reel it in safely.

By that point the pendulum had swung back towards the home side, and after the second break, their experienced bowlers, led by Hazlewood, strangled the run rate and took control. In the first 40 minutes of the final session, West Indies lost three wickets and scored just two runs, and when No.11 Joseph was struck on the big toe by a savage yorker from Starc and forced to retire hurt, the Windies innings closed at 193.

Having raced off to pad up in the 10-minute changeover, Smith was back out there and facing up to Kemar Roach as he looked to get Australia off to a strong start in their pursuit of 216. Roach found both swing and seam but this time around, Smith was equal to the task, and he scored quickly early, punching boundaries both sides of the wicket to shake off any lingering form concerns.

At the other end, Khawaja made his way to 10 before he was unfortunate to feather an edge down leg side through to Da Silva off Alzarri Joseph. Marnus Labuschagne (5) followed soon after, nicking a seaming ball from Justin Greaves to third slip Kevin Sinclair, who took another excellent catch. It completed the leanest series of Labuschagne’s career – 19 runs at 6.33.

Australia were 2-42 at that point but Smith was looking settled, leaving well outside his off stump as he said pre-match he planned to do. For new No.4 Green, who had been in the game throughout day three via his 10 overs (1-37) and a fine catch, it was another great opportunity to stamp his authority on an innings.

But the Windies quicks – with Greaves stepping up admirably in the absence of the injured Shamar Joseph – were hitting good areas, finding movement in the air and off the pitch. It made life a nightmare for the 24-year-old Australian, who was almost trapped lbw by Greaves and then nicked just short of the slips next ball.

The score edged past 50 as the 11,184 crowd sat enthralled by the contest, and stumps brought with it some respite for Smith and Green, who will steel themselves to be there at the end on Sunday.

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