Besieged batting duo face moment of truth with Windies setting Aussies tricky target as Marnus slump continues


Australia’s new-look batting line-up faces their moment of truth as they look to silence their critics by chasing down a tricky fourth-innings victory target against the West Indies at the Gabba. 

The world champions eventually bowled the Windies out for 193 on Saturday night before making their way to 2-60 in pursuit of the victory target of 216, still needing 156 runs to avoid a surprise defeat to their eighth-ranked opponents. 

And it’s Steve Smith and Cameron Green, the two players under the most pressure, who were not out overnight and will be tasked with setting the platform for a successful run-chase.

Smith looked the most impressive of his fourth outing in his new role at opener to be 33 off 56 at stumps while Green, under pressure to show he deserves his recall and elevation to four, was more circumspect to be nine off 31 balls.

Smith hit five boundaries to get off to a flyer before settling into a calmer groove in the lead-up to stumps to ensure he was at the crease at the end.

“He’s jumped all over anything that’s been short or loose. He looks sharp,” former Australia opener Aaron Finch said of Smith’s positive start. 

Green had a couple of nervous moments, surviving an LBW video review and nicking another delivery just short of slips.

The Windies’ hopes of upsetting Australia were dealt a huge blow with young seamer Shamar Joseph sent to hospital for scans on his big toe after copping a painful yorker from Mitchell Starc to bring an abrupt end to their innings.

Australia got off to a nervy start to their pursuit of victory with Usman Khawaja and Marnus Labuschagne falling cheaply.

Khawaja snicked a lazy leg glance off Alzarri Joseph on 10 before Labuschagne was out for the second time in his hometown Test to a diving catch by Kevin Sinclair in the cordon. 

Steve Smith. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Labuschagne, who made three and five in this Test, has cobbled together a modest 226 runs this summer against Pakistan and the Windies with a highest score of 63 and a middling average of 28.25.

The former top-ranked Test batter managed just one century in 2023 and is in the middle of the leanest stretch of his career that is placing extra strain on Australia’s new-look top order.

Resuming at 1-13, captain Kraigg Brathwaite had repelled the attack for 53 deliveries for a patient 16 before serving up a simple catch to cover off Green, virtually repaying the soft dismissal that the Australian all-rounder served up to him in the previous innings. 

Australia two down ????

Sinclair takes another slips catch and Labuschagne departs #AUSvWI

— 7Cricket (@7Cricket) January 27, 2024

Kirk McKenzie again looked enterprising but first drop appears to be a spot too high for him in this format. 

He stroked six boundaries on his way to 41 but tried to sweep the first ball he faced from Nathan Lyon and was trapped in front. 

At 3-86, the Windies were in a precarious position but Alick Athanaze and Kavem Hodge steadied the ship. 

Athanaze was gifted a life on 28 when Smith dropped a diving chance off Green at second slip but was on his way for 35 when he presented the same fielder with a much easier option off Lyon. 

The momentum of the match turned when Travis Head unveiled a moment of magic at short leg, snapping up a Hodge flick to leg and throwing down his stumps before he could dive back to safety. 

The first West Indies breakthrough!

Khawaja edges down legside and Alzarri Joseph gets the wicket #AUSvWI

— 7Cricket (@7Cricket) January 27, 2024

At 4-148, the Windies had their noses in front but after Hodge was caught short, Joshua da Silva (seven) and Justin Greaves (33) nicked off and the tail was exposed.

Green took the catch to dismiss da Silva, pouching it at gully on the second grab after he knocked it up as it flew off the blade from a wide Starc delivery.

Carey was also getting in on the juggling act, botching a straightforward edge from Greaves but after parrying it up again with his second attempt as he fell to the turf, he managed to hang onto the pink six-stitcher just in the nick of time.

Alzarri Joseph (duck) and Kemar Roach (one) couldn’t repeat their frustrating first-innings feats with the bat and Shamar Joseph was forced to retire hurt after a Starc thunderbolt slammed into his big toe. 

It turned out to be a no-ball so he wasn’t out LBW but the damage left him unable to walk properly let alone continue batting.

Shamar Joseph has retired hurt after this searing yorker from Starc.

Hopefully he’s okay ???? #AUSvWI

— 7Cricket (@7Cricket) January 27, 2024

The painful impact was written all over his face as the impressive rookie seamer limped off to the pavilion as the Windies’ resistance ended on 193.

“Horrible blow. That was tough to look at. Right on the end of the toe,” said Adam Gilchrist on Fox Cricket commentary.

Joseph did not field on Saturday night and is unlikely to bowl on Sunday, weakening the Windies’ attack for the climax of the match as they try to win a Test in Australia for the first time since their 10-wicket triumph in Perth in 1997.

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