England were praying for the pink ball to cause havoc under lights after managing a solitary wicket in the first two sessions of the second Ashes Test.
The day-nighter at Adelaide Oval began in dramatic fashion as Australia skipper Pat Cummins was ruled out of the match due to close contact with a coronavirus case, leaving Steve Smith back in charge for the first time since the 2018 sandpaper scandal.
He decided to bat first against an England attack fronted by the returning duo of James Anderson and Stuart Broad, but the latter’s early dismissal of Marcus Harris proved a false dawn as the home side posted 129 for one.
A century stand between David Warner and Marnus Labuschagne saw Australia safe at the second break, leaving England counting on the floodlights and night skies to change the game for them.
It was a proud day for Broad, who became the 10th Test player in history to win 150 Test caps, and his long-running rivalry with Warner was soon in the spotlight. Broad had trounced the left-hander throughout the 2019 series and almost continued his hot streak when Warner was clattered on the front pad after leaving his first ball.
He survived the appeal but it was the start of a fiendishly difficult period for the opener, whose first hour at the crease contained just one run and two more big lbw appeals. Broad had him in trouble again but missed out on height, while Chris Woakes’ DRS referral also proved unsuccessful.
Broad and Anderson kept the scoring rate at a snail’s pace with an unresponsive Kookaburra but it took a rare loose one to get England going, Harris going after a drag but brushing it down the leg side.
Buttler leapt into action, flinging his right glove at the ball and hanging on to a fine catch. At drinks Australia had crawled to 15 for one, but Warner and Labuschagne were banking valuable time in the middle.
The scoring rate doubled before in the next hour as Australia moved to 45 but Labuschagne’s frustrations almost got the best of him when he flashed Ben Stokes between Joe Root and Rory Burns in a staggered slip cordon.
The evening session proved a huge frustration for England, with the absence of Mark Wood’s extreme pace and a specialist spin option leaving an attack that looked increasingly pedestrian.
Australia put on 84 runs, with the ball disappearing more frequently to the boundary ropes as Warner settled into his work. Labuschagne saw sail a few inches over square leg but had a genuine reprieve on 21 when Stokes’ short-ball tactic earned another catching opportunity down leg.
Having taken a much tougher one, Buttler will be kicking himself for putting it down – with a rueful pat on the back from Root summing up the mood. Warner banked a gritty half-century with a pair of fours of the lively Stokes, one popped over cover the other pulled hard between two boundary riders.
Labuschagne had another scare on 45 when he turned Root close to Stokes at leg-slip, but was raising his bat just before the break in play as England laboured away without joy.