Labuschagne: Five-day Test cricket amazing the way it is

Australia's No. 3 Test batsman Marnus Labuschagne, who was the highest run-getter in Tests in 2019, isn't in favour of the proposed four-day Tests.

Marnus Labuschagne had a terrific 2019 that saw him amass 896 runs in five home Tests at an average of 112 with four hundreds and three fifties, including a fine show at the Ashes.   -  AFP Photo

The Trident hotel in Mumbai, where the Australian team is staying, is thronged by fans and journalists. In the lobby, the large sofas are the stage for many discussions. The chatter dies down when a few famous names walk through the main entrance; among them, Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne.

Australia's new Test number 3, Labuschagne shadow-practises his leg-spin as he waits in the foyer for Smith, who is obliging young fans with selfies and autographs. The two soon make their way to the lift. Children in the vicinity and a few members of the hotel support staff watch mouths agape.

If Smith dominated the Ashes in England in a dramatic, blockbuster fashion then his 'like-for-like' replacement, Labuschagne, is the Next Big Thing after an exciting summer of run glut. The pair has been virtually inseparable... off the field too, reveals Labuschagne.

"“We probably talk more cricket off the field than on it. I’ve learnt a lot by just watching how he (Smith) goes about the game.. how he applies himself on the field. Steve’s a great player to learn from because he sets the benchmark so high” - Labuschagne on his equation with Steve Smith.   -  PTI

 

“We spend a lot of time together. We love the game and talk about it all the time,” says Labuschagne. “We probably talk more cricket off the field than on it. I’ve learnt a lot by just watching how he (Smith) goes about the game.. how he applies himself on the field. Steve’s a great player to learn from because he sets the benchmark so high.”

RELATED|Fast-rising Labuschagne believes in process, not results

Labuschagne was the summer’s most revelatory story. An insatiable appetite for runs, was married to dogged defiance — amply on display when he came on as cricket's first concussion substitute for Smith at Lord’s last year — as he amassed 896 runs in five home Tests at an average of 112 with four hundreds and three fifties.

“It has been an amazing summer for us as a team. Coming from retaining the Ashes and playing, definitely, one of the best Test series I’ve been a part of ... to winning 5-0 (2-0 vs Pakistan and 3-0 vs New Zealand) on home soil feels great,” he says.

“You can’t overshadow getting two of your best players, David Warner and Steve Smith, back. Two batsmen of such calibre always add great value to the squad. But there have been others too who have stepped up... Travis Head is playing well. Matthew Wade was brilliant throughout in England and our bowling attack has been amazing all summer long and all winter in England... It’s probably just about gelling well as a unit over time.”

Labuschagne came on as cricket's first concussion substitute for Steve Smith at Lord’s last year and went on to score 353 runs in Australia's Ashes 2019 triumph.   -  Getty Images

Smith had a quieter homecoming summer, collecting 254 runs at a modest average of 36.28 with two fifties. In contrast, Labuschagne’s innings of 215 and 59 in the third Test against New Zealand at the SCG saw him move ahead of New Zealand’s Kane Williamson, into the top three of the ICC Test batting list. It has been a remarkable ascent for the right-hander, who was ranked 107th in the world after last year’s Sydney Test.

RELATED| No comparison with Smith, says Labuschagne

“You are always learning as a player,” he says when asked about his batting high. “Eighteen months ago, I was a very different cricketer. Plenty of things have changed since that Test series against India (2018-19), but the outcome of it all has been an increased ability to occupy the crease, an uncluttered mind and a better game plan. I’ve been more consistent in everything that I’ve done... more focused and making sure I am putting runs on the board.”

It was in the 50-over format that Labuschagne first displayed his mettle as a middle-order batsman when he was adjudged player of the tournament in the domestic limited-overs event in 2016 for Queensland. “You look at the guys I look up to and aspire to be — Steve Smith, Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson, Joe Root...,” Labuschagne was quoted as saying in a recent interview. “I just saw the other day that he (Kohli) averages 59 in Test cricket, 54 in ODIs and 50 plus in T20Is...” Labuschagne says. The note of admiration in his voice is difficult to miss.

RELATED| Labuschagne aims for Virat Kohli's all-format domination

“If that’s not a world-class player, then I don’t know who is... there are so many things about his game that’s good. That said, I try and imbibe the good from all batters, not just the top guys. There’s so much to learn from how each cricketer goes about his craft.”

Labuschagne doesn’t think the Test game needs to change. “No, no” is the resounding response to a question about the prospect of four-day Tests. “The five-day cricket is amazing the way it is. We are seeing such great contests... the Test match between England and South Africa (Newlands) went deep into day five, it was a terrific finish.

“Then there was the Ashes Test in Manchester which we won in the third session of the final day: it was an unbelievable game. I think five days bring the spinners into play, and you ought to have a full-strength squad to win a five-day match. If it becomes four days, it just loses that element.”

  Dugout videos