PARTAB RAMCHAND | 9 JANUARY, 2020
Australian Cricket’s ‘Golden Boy’
Destiny has played a part in Labuschagne’s sensational rise.
He started his Test career with a duck. In his first five Tests he scored 210 runs at an average of 26.25. He was picked for the tour of England last year as an extra batsman. He didn’t find a place in the team for the first Test of the Ashes series. And then things started happening.
The whole world knows by now how Marnus Labuschagne got his big break as it is part of cricketing folklore. Steve Smith gets hit by Jofra Archer at Lord’s, Labuschagne becomes Test cricket’s first concussion substitute and since then he has transformed himself from just another middle order batsman to Australia’s ‘golden boy’ and the most talked about cricketer in the world.
Many cricket followers the world over might still struggle to pronounce his surname but they certainly know him by name. Labuschagne has even overshadowed Smith who was freely acknowledged as the best Australian batsman since Don Bradman. In five Tests during the summer against Pakistan and New Zealand he has amassed 896 runs at an average of 112. The 25-year-old right hander scored a double century, two 150s, a century and three half centuries in eight innings. His run tally was the best for an Australian in a five Test summer Down Under – surpassing superlative efforts by Neil Harvey (834 in 1952-53) and Bradman (810 in 1936-37) among others and nine runs adrift of England’s Wally Hammond who scored 905 runs in the 1928-29 Ashes series.
Eye rubbing and mind blowing are the immediate adjectives that come to mind and somehow even these seem inadequate. As Aussie coach Justin Langer put it “it is a great credit to his mental and physical endurance’’ while former captain Greg Chappell said that Labuschagne had the technique and temperament to become one of Australia’s best No 3 batsmen alongside himself and Ricky Ponting. “He has got shots on both sides of the wicket. He is looking to score runs, he is not looking to survive’’ explained Chappell. ``He is always looking to get a single, looking for the bad ball. These are the traits I have seen in more than 60 years of watching cricket that great players have.’’ Coming from a legendary batsman like Chappell this constitutes gushing and at the same time balanced praise.
It’s amazing to recall how much destiny has played a part in Labuschagne’s sensational rise. First there was Smith getting hit by Archer. And but for the one year bans handed to Smith and David Warner for their part in the ball tampering scandal at Newlands in 2018 Labuschagne might still be in Queensland waiting for his chance to play Test cricket.
Born in South Africa but raised in Brisbane from the age of ten, Labuschagne was a surprise selection for the series against Pakistan in the UAE in October 2018, Australia’s first since the tainted tour of South Africa. He did little of note batting down the order in his first two Tersts and was a controversial call-up for the fourth Test against India that sealed Australia’s first home series defeat to an Asian opponent.
Then came the tour of England, the Ashes series, the concussion substitute for Smith and Labuschagne has not looked back. In fact he has gone from strength to strength and with his tally of 1104 runs in 2019 at an average of almost 65 he finished clearly ahead of every other Test batsman. He showed enough of his batting prowess in England when he finished the Ashes series with 353 runs at 50.42 reeling off four consecutive half centuries. But it is superb showing in the Australian summer that has seen him rapidly climb up the ladder and at the moment he is No 3 in the ICC rankings behind Virat Kohli and Smith. He is in elite company and has earned his newfound status purely on merit.
But for the modest and unassuming Labuschagne all this has yet to set in. “I haven’t really had a chance to stop and reflect on the summer I have had,’’ he said after the double century in the third Test against New Zealand at Sydney. “For me it has been a very special summer but the real privilege is playing in this team.’’
Labuschagne is aware of the rich history of batting greats Australia has had coming in at one wicket down. “The role has been a pinnacle one for Australia and there is a lot of responsibility that comes with it. The standard is unbelievably high and for me it’s about upholding that standard’’ he said.
Next up for Labuschagne is Australia’s short tour of India later this month when they will play three ODIs. Having proved his class in no uncertain terms in cricket’s traditional format he will now look to win his first ODI cap and cement his place in the shorter format. Few will doubt his capabilities to do so.