A first Ashes century is within touching distance for a fortunate Marnus Labuschagne, who joined forces with David Warner as Australia tightened their grip on the urn at Adelaide Oval.
Labuschagne will begin the second day of the second Test unbeaten on 95 from a marathon 275 balls, having twice been dropped by shattered wicketkeeper Jos Buttler – including a sitter shortly before stumps.
Labuschagne and a gutsy Warner (95) provided the backbone of Australia’s innings after returning captain Steve Smith won the toss and elected to bat. Australia reached 2-221 at stumps as the home side defied their chaotic preparation, with Labuschagne to resume with Smith (18 not out) on Friday.
Veteran English pace aces James Anderson and Stuart Broad only begun to swing the ball when they got hold of the second pink Kookaburra late on day one, with the tourists adopting short-pitched bowling tactics for much of the day as the Aussies made slow and steady progress.
Warner, who made 94 in his only dig at the Gabba, again fell agonisingly short of what would have been a memorable century as he defied a rib injury before slashing a loose Ben Stokes delivery to Broad at cover.
Former West Australian opener Marcus Harris could be batting for his Test career in the second innings after another failure. Harris, who switched to Victoria in 2016, was dismissed for 3 after gloving a short ball from Broad to Buttler, who took a sensational diving catch before his later bloopers.
Veteran Usman Khawaja is waiting in the wings and will hope for an opportunity in the Boxing Day Test.
Smith was returned to the captaincy after Pat Cummins was ruled out amid high drama on the morning of the match, having been ruled a close contact of a positive COVID-19 case after dining inside at restaurant.
Paceman Michael Neser was handed his Test debut, Travis Head made vice-captain and fellow quicks Mark Steketee and Scott Boland rushed to Adelaide in case Australia needs COVID or concussion subs during the match.