How Marnus Labuschagne, his numbers and his obsession with the game are bad news for Australia’s opponents for years to come.

How Marnus Labuschagne got his big break

In Steve Smith Australia have one of the greatest batsmen to have played the game. His Test match numbers stack up against anyone’s in the history of the game with the possible exception of a certain Sir Donald Bradman. It’s no coincidence that during his suspension from the game, Australia looked a completely different side in the longest format without their middle-order rock.

When he returned, he wasn’t so much a rock as an immovable object of mammoth proportions. It’s equally no coincidence that when he was felled by a Jofra Archer bouncer in the Second Test, Australia went on to lose their next game when Smith was ruled out with concussion.

That Archer bouncer however, may have perversely been the best thing to have happened to Australian Test cricket for a few years, though.  Marnus Labuschagne will forever be the answer to the trivia question ‘who was the first ever concussion substitute in Test cricket?’  but he may also be the answer to Australia’s problem at number three, one which has persisted ever since Ricky Ponting lost his mojo almost a decade ago.

 

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We all know how talented and pleasing on the eye the likes of Usman Khawaja and Shaun Marsh are but sadly for them, substance trumps style every day of the week when it comes to the five-day game. They looked great but they just didn’t score enough runs.

That Second Ashes Test wasn’t his debut- he’d made that against Pakistan the previous Australian summer- but it was the day it all changed for him. Seven innings in that 2019 Ashes series including the one he played as a concussion sub yielded four fifties and he was to end the series as the fourth highest scorer with 343 runs despite playing seven knocks when many played 10.

Speaking of Pakistan, he’ll be in action when the Second Test starts against Pakistan on Friday morning. Fresh from winning man of the match the first time round, he’s 5.0 with Betfair to be first innings top batsman for the Aussies and 11.0 with 10CRIC to pick up the match gong once again.

 

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Is Labuschagne Steve Smith 2.0?

In contrast to Khawaja and Marsh’s relative lack of runs, Marnus Labuschagne has scored five fifties and a century to get him to 748 runs in just 16 Test innings, averaging 53. As an added bonus, he’s also taken 10 wickets. More to the point, if teams thought they had their work cut out getting Smith out, they’re about to find out that a younger ‘clone’ of the great man isn’t much easier to dislodge.

 

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Imitating your idol in cricket is nothing new. The wonderfully talented Virender Sehwag was more than happy to admit that he copied as much of Sachin Tendulkar as was humanly possible whereas watching England’s Ollie Pope bat isn’t too dissimilar to seeing Ian Bell in action.

Steve Smith is famous for loving nothing more than batting and batting and then batting some more, whether that’s at the crease, in the nets or anywhere else. But a series of interviews on ESPN Cricinfo with current Australian players revealed something that bowlers all over the world won’t have enjoyed hearing. When asked who was the greatest cricket nufty (geek) Smith himself got a couple of nominations and it was mentioned that Glenn Maxwell will watch absolutely any cricket game in the world as long as it’s on TV.

 

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But it was Marnus Labuschagne who won the vote by a country mile. The man never stops talking about cricket, watching it, practicing, anything to do with cricket and he’s all over it.  Apparently, he went to a well-known cricket bat manufacturer to choose a new bat and left six or seven hours later having spent the day trying on different handles, asking questions, using different bats and trying to understand the science behind the whole thing. Rather like when he scored 185 against Pakistan in the 1st Test, you get the feeling he left (that bat factory) a little unsatisfied, saying he would have liked to have hung around a bit longer.

Of course, being a cricket obsessive isn’t a guarantee of success. The great David Gower hardly practiced at all when on tour and Maxwell himself says he spends more time on the golf course than in the nets. But with Labuschagne you get the feeling that the more into the game he is, the better he’s going to be.

It all means that with the exception of Kane Williamson/Ross Taylor and Chet Pujara/Virat Kohli, Australia now have arguably the best 3/4 combination in Test cricket.

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Labuschagne the limited-overs player?

His style and record suggests that’s going to be very much his format. An average of 37 in List A cricket isn’t bad but it’s not fantastic either and a strike rate of just 86 suggests he’s far happier batting time and waiting to play his favourite shots than trying to manufacture them and scoring at a faster rate than what he’s comfortable with. Mind you, no-one has really nailed down their place at three or four (depending on where Smith decides he wants to bat) with Khawaja and Peter Handscomb among those who have been given chances they haven’t really taken. But let’s see.

And if 50-over cricket seems a little too fast-paced for Labuschagne’s taste then international T20 cricket really does look a stretch. In fact, he’s played just seven T20 games in his life which at age 25 isn’t many at all.

When the Big Bash starts in the third week of December he’ll be on Test duty as Australia face New Zealand but when that comes to a close and with an ODI call-up (to travel to India) unlikely, he’ll be available to turn out for his Big Bash side, the Brisbane Heat.

The Heat will be somewhat fancied this year purely because they’ll have AB de Villiers available for the second half of the season and if he and Chris Lynn get going, no ground will be big enough and no total will be safe enough.

In an unusually tight betting heat, they’re among the favourites at 6.0 with Betfair Sportsbook to go all the way. Given how much his stock has risen over the last year, the Heat would be crazy not to play him even if it’s not his preferred format.   And it would be just like Marnus Labuschagne to go away, spend a few hundred hours re-inventing himself as a T20 player and making a success of it all.

 

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