Marnus Labuschagne emerged bruised but not beaten as Australia extended their advantage on day three of the World Test Championship final, admitting “my hands are just about hanging on”.
Labuschagne, Test cricket’s number one ranked batter, is one of several batters who have been put through the ringer over the first three days at the Oval.
On day one he suffered a nasty blow to his left thumb that required treatment and his second innings proved no gentler, with the Australia number three tossing his bat to the floor after another heavy blow to the glove.
Labuschagne survived the examination, carving out an unbeaten 41 from 118 deliveries as Australia reached stumps 296 ahead on 123 for four.
With the Ashes just a week away, an injury is the last thing anyone in the Australia dressing room wants to consider, and Labuschagne looks set to be battle-hardened by the time he takes on England at Edgbaston.
“I’ve got good bone density. My hands are just about hanging on,” he told Test Match Special.
“It is lively out there, and that does make it challenging when they bounce like that off a length, but that happens as a batter and you’ve just got to find a way through it.
“We’re certainly not taking this game as Ashes preparation, but it is certainly handy to have a Test of this calibre before a very big series.”
Labuschagne’s innings started in unusual fashion, with the 28-year-old appearing to nod off on the balcony while fully padded up.
David Warner’s dismissal shortly before tea saw him wake with a start, but he showed no signs of drowsiness as he faced off with the Indian attack, reaching the interval intact and negotiating the full evening session as Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith and Travis Head fell around him.
Team-mate Mitchell Starc explained: “I think he mentioned that when he came off actually, that he was just resting or having a little doze.
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“Obviously he’s able to switch on pretty quickly and he copped a few across the knuckles to wake him up. He’s done a very good job in that last session, fighting through some difficult situations to keep the scoreboard ticking over.”
Starc, who picked up two wickets but saw his economy rate exceed five an over, admitted Australia had been off their game in the morning’s play.
After Scott Boland struck with the second ball of the day they saw three catches go down, while Pat Cummins had a second wicket of the innings struck off for a no-ball.
Australia were much improved after the break, jolted into life by an outstanding reaction catch from Cameron Green at gully.
“Not too much was spoken, just the fact that we were probably a bit sloppy in that first session and to sharpen up,” said Starc.
“The fact that we still took 10 wickets and created more than 10 chances throughout the first innings is a good sign but we’ve got plenty of room to improve and certainly get that rhythm back. We’ll be better for the run.”
India all-rounder Shardul Thakur argued that his side were still in the contest, taking some heart from their own defeat by England at Edgbaston last year, when Ben Stokes’ men chased 378 with seven wickets in hand.
“Cricket is a funny game. You never know who can handle the pressure better out there,” he said.
“One good partnership and you can even chase down 450 or maybe more than that. Last year England chased almost 400 and did not lose too many wickets, so that’s a positive sign for us.”