Substitute Labuschagne stars for Australia

London: Marnus Labuschagne made history as international cricket’s first concussion substitute before his valuable fifty helped Australia draw the second Ashes Test against England at Lord’s on Sunday.

Labuschagne was not confirmed as playing until Sunday morning when Australia star Steve Smith was ruled out with concussion, having been hit by a Jofra Archer bouncer during his
92 on Saturday.

Previously, a substitute would only have been permitted to field. But this series is the first in the ICC’s inaugural World Test Championship featuring new rules that allow replacement players to bat or bowl if they are covering for concussed team-mates.

Labuschagne, in just his sixth Test, responded to his late call-up by top-scoring with 59, having been hit on the grille of his helmet second ball by a 91.6 mph Archer bouncer, in Australia’s eventual second-innings 154-6.

“Marnus played superbly,” said Australia captain Tim Paine. “He got hit hard in the face second ball and I thought he showed great character, great skill and technique.” England pressed hard late on to level the series at 1-1 after captain Joe Root declared to set Australia a stiff target of 267 in 48 overs following Ben Stokes’s 115 not out. It seemed the match was destined for a draw, with Australia 132-3 after tea in a Test where five sessions were washed out and rain also delayed Sunday’s start by over an hour.

But Australia, who won the first Test at Edgbaston by a huge margin of 251 runs, lost three wickets for 17 runs to give England renewed hope. Come the last over, bowled by left-arm spinner Jack Leach, England needed four wickets for victory, but Pat Cummins played out three deliveries to secure the draw. Fast bowler Archer took 3-32 to finish with five wickets on his Test debut, with Leach returning figures of 3-37.

“I think it was important that we bounced back strongly and I think we’ve certainly done that,” said Root. Given the short turnaround, Smith, out for under a hundred for the first time this series on Saturday, could now miss the third Test in Leeds starting on Thursday. His absence would be a huge blow to Australia, bidding for their first Ashes series win in England in 18 years, given he made 144 and 142 at Edgbaston in his first Test since completing a 12-month ban for his role in a ball-tampering scandal in South Africa.

“I’m not sure about Headingley,” said Paine. “He (Smith) will need to improve, there’s no doubt about that. Hopefully for our sake he does.”

Later Sunday, Cricket Australia said: “Steve Smith had a precautionary scan of his neck on Sunday which, as expected, cleared him of any structural damage. After the scan Steve returned to the team hotel to rest and he will continue to be reviewed on an ongoing basis.”

NT Bureau