Australia captain Tim Paine hailed the battling performance of Test cricket’s first concussion substitute, Marnus Labuschagne, but joked about requesting two batsmen to replace Steve Smith.
The tourists held on to their 1-0 Ashes lead after a tense fifth day at Lord’s, drawing the second Test by reaching stumps on 154 for six.
The 24-year picked up three wickets and fired down another series of bouncers at more than 90mph, including one that smashed Labuschagne in the grille just two balls into his history-making knock as Smith’s stand-in.
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Labuschagne had been approved by match referee Ranjan Madugalle as a ‘like-for-like’ replacement, activating a rule that has only been live since the start of the month, and went on to prove his worthiness.
He got back up and defied England for 100 balls, top-scoring with 59 before falling to a controversial catch.
“Marnus played superbly. He got hit hard in the face second ball and I thought he showed great character, great skill and great technique,” Paine said.
“He came in today and batted as well as anyone in the Test match in, I think, the hardest conditions. It was dark, it was spinning, it was fast and moving around a bit. I thought handled it as well as anyone in the whole Test.”
Paine playfully acknowledged that stepping into the shoes of a man who averages 63.24 in his career and 126 in the series was not easy, adding: “We wanted two (substitutes). I think if Smithy is averaging 63, you want to bring a couple of batters in!”
Australia were undeniably on the back foot on day five and might well have lost the match had five sessions not been lost in the first three days or 10 overs disappeared to rain on Sunday morning.
But Paine was quick to remind everyone who has the whip hand leading into Thursday’s third Test at Headingley.
“I wouldn’t say it was a great escape at all. It’s 1-0, we go to a Test match next week in Leeds in a great position,” he said.
“If you would have said we’d be 1-0 up after two Tests, we would have taken that every day of the week.
“There will be times in the three Tests when England are in control, and we will be in control. It’s about taking that winning momentum.”
Paine suggested it “would be tough to stop Smithy walking out next week” but deferred to the medical staff when asked if he would take the field again so soon after a concussion diagnosis.
Cricket Australia said in a statement Smith had a “precautionary scan” on his neck on Sunday, which cleared him of any structural damage. He returned to the team hotel to rest after the scan and “will continue to be reviewed on an ongoing basis”, CA added.
As for the man who landed him in that predicament, Paine added: “I thought Jofra bowled really well. It’s a challenge but that’s why we’re playing Test cricket.
“Guys bowling at that pace take time to get used to and Jofra bowls from quite a height. He gets steep bounce.”