By and large, England’s success against Labuschagne has been by challenging the outside edge – encouraging him to play balls he would often leave – nothwithstanding the sweep against Moeen – whereas Smith’s dismissals have been a bit more varied.
Onto Lord’s and it looked as though the pair could combine for one of their massive partnerships. But having reached a stand of 102, Ollie Robinson found Labuschagne’s outside edge. In the second innings, Labuschagne could barely believe it when he slapped a wide long hop from Jimmy Anderson to point. Smith, meanwhile, was a victim of the short-ball barrage when he found deep square leg.
At Headingley, Labuschagne was given a working-over by Mark Wood in the first innings – facing 18 balls without scoring a run off him – before edging Chris Woakes to slip. Smith, meanwhile, in his 100th Test, couldn’t build on a life having been spilled by Bairstow when he soon got an inside-edge against Broad. Then came the duo’s double aberration against Moeen. Again, significantly, Wood had been operating at the other end.
“When you have someone bowling like Woody, as fast as he does, and the partnerships you have as a bowling group, Woody might not be the one getting wickets but they fall at the other end,” Stokes said. “You can look at 10-over spells and the person at the other end could get two for whatever and Woody might not get any, but the wicket definitely sometimes comes from the pressure applied at the other end.”
Smith admitted his personal landmark outing had played a part. “Honestly I needed a break,” he told the Unplayable podcast. “It was quite a draining week mentally with emotions flying around at what I’d achieved. I usually don’t like to think about that kind of thing, but it was quite a big milestone individually.
“I certainly didn’t feel as switched on as I would have liked out in the middle. It’s been good to refresh and I feel a lot more focused mentally this week. Outside of that, it was just a weird week, I’m not really sure why.”
“That’s been the issue for Australia so far,” Mark Taylor wrote in a column for the Sydney Morning Herald and Age. “They just haven’t made enough runs, with England doing a good job of keeping them down.”
Labuschagne, although he has found consistent starts, has looked uncharacteristically ill-at-ease throughout the series and, as is his want, has spent a lot of time tinkering in the nets. England are pleased with their success so far, but wary of what could still come.
“We have obviously managed to do something right to not allow Marnus to go on and make those big scores that he’s been able to do in his career so far, but you don’t read too much into stuff like that against world-class players,” Stokes said. “There’s a reason why he averages 55 in Test cricket, it’s because he’s a quality player. But we’ve just been really good with our plans to him so hopefully we can do the same and he doesn’t get a big one this week.
“Great players are always due, and they are due some runs,” Moeen said. “Smith obviously played brilliantly at Lord’s. He’s outstanding and very hard to play against, so when you see the back of him, in particular early, you always feel like you’ve done a great job as a team. But as the opposition, you know it’s around the corner for players like that. You are hoping it doesn’t happen, but it’s been one of the reasons why I think the series has been so tight, because we’ve managed to keep them a little but quiet.”
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo
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