Australia call up all-rounder Marnus Labuschagne for final Test against India

Sport360 staff 30/12/2018
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An Australia Test recall for Marnus Labuschagne.

Following their 137-run loss in Melbourne, Australia have added all-rounder Marnus Labuschagne to the squad for the fourth and final Test of the series against India.

The hosts fell behind 1-2 in the four-match series after they folded for 261 runs in their second innings of the Boxing Day Test. With the prospect of a maiden Test series defeat to India at home staring at the face of Australia, Labuschagne has been recalled to the squad to provide more balance with his all-round abilities.

The hosts had included Mitchell Marsh in the playing XI for the third Test but the all-rounder failed to come up with the goods with scores of nine and 10 in the two innings. With the ball, Marsh bowled economically in the first innings but was unable to pick up a single wicket.

“As we’ve said all along, we know Mitch at his best can offer a lot to Australian cricket,” skipper Tim Paine stated after the loss.

“We just need to make sure he’s at his best more often than not and like the rest of us the gap between his best and his worst gets smaller all the time,” he added.

24-year-old Labuschagne made his Australia Test debut in the two-match series against Pakistan in the UAE in October. He made a top-score of 43 with the bat but impressed with his leg-spin which fetched him a total of seven wickets.

A poor run of form in Australia’s domestic Sheffield Shield cricket saw the all-rounder not considered for selection for the first three Tests against India.

With Sydney traditionally providing assistance to the spinners, Labuschagne could be a handy foil to Nathan Lyon for the hosts should he play.

The fourth and final Test of the series gets underway at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) on January 3.

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Kohli and Bumrah praise India's first-class structure in response to 'Canteen XI' jibe

Sudhir Gupta 30/12/2018
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Victorious India skipper Virat Kohli.

That India’s players had taken note of Australian commentator Kerry O’Keeffe’s insensitive and ill-informed remarks on the Ranji Trophy was clear to see in the post-match presentation of the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne.

The Aussie commentator had enraged Indian fans with his comments on debutant Mayank Agarwal during Boxing Day. Belittling Agarwal’s Ranji Trophy credentials, O’Keeffe had mocked that the India opener’s domestic triple ton had come against a ‘Jalandhar Canteen XI’.

His fellow Fox Sports commentator Mark Waugh too had taken a dig at the country’s domestic cricket structure by stating that an average of 50 in India was equivalent to 40 in Australia.

Following India’s 137-run triumph in the third Test on Sunday, both skipper Virat Kohli and man-of-the-match Jasprit Bumrah did not miss an opportunity to laud the virtues of the domestic first-class structure.

When asked to point the reason for India’s success, Kohli was quick to respond, saying: “Our first-class cricket is amazing.”

Man-of-the-match Jasprit Bumrah.

Man-of-the-match Jasprit Bumrah.

“The tough conditions with the second new ball makes bowlers hard and bowling with the old ball proved to be a difference in this match,” added Kohli in a response clearly aimed at O’Keeffe’s on-air comments.

Bumrah, who picked up a nine-wicket match haul, cited his experience of playing in the Ranji Trophy when queried about his heavy workload in the Test.

“We train very hard and we are used to bowling a lot of overs in Ranji Cricket, so the body is doing well,” the India pacer stated.

India bowling coach Bharat Arun had on Saturday admitted that the team had been aware of O’Keeffe’s disparaging remarks. Judging by the post-match comments by Kohli and Bumrah, it can safely be assumed that the team had been hurt by the Aussie’s remarks.

O’Keeffe tried to limit the damage of his multiple controversial comments during the Test by sending an open letter to Indian cricket fans on Sunday. The damage though, has already been done.

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Bumrah's rise underlines path-breaking 2018 for India's pace attack

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Jasprit Bumrah.

2018 has been the year of India’s pace resurgence with Jasprit Bumrah’s sensational efforts in the Melbourne Test against Australia perfectly summarising the massive improvement the team’s fast-bowling battery has made over the year.

Bumrah’s career-best 6-33 in the first innings not only wrecked hosts Australia’s batting card, but also completed a record year for India’s pace arsenal. The 136 wickets shared between Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma in 2018 made them arguably the most complete and potent pace attacks in the world.

For a country not famed for producing quality fast-bowlers, the 2018 display of the pace trio is an achievement to savour.

The sight of Bumrah beating Australia’s batsmen through sheer pace in Melbourne was one to behold. What is even more impressive about Bumrah’s display is the fact that he is still in his debut year when it comes to Test cricket.

Bumrah has been beating batsmen through sheer pace.

Bumrah has been beating batsmen through sheer pace.

Having forged his reputation as a limited-overs bowler, the Ahmedabad-born pacer was introduced to Test cricket in India’s tour of South Africa and has gone from strength to strength.

His displays in South Africa, England and now Australia have more than confirmed his Test credentials with the 25-year-old picking up a total of 48 wickets in just nine matches at an average of 21.

While Bumrah has brought the X-factor in the Indian pace armoury, he has been complemented perfectly by Shami and Ishant who have been highly consistent.

Shami has matched Bumrah’s tally (47) although he has player 12 matches while Ishant has picked up 41 wickets in 11 games.

For long India has hoped for a bowling attack capable of picking up 20 wickets consistently across all conditions, especially away from home. Bumrah, Shami and Ishant have done just that with their overseas displays this year and that too in some style.

In fact, it has been India’s batting which let the team down in the tours of South Africa and England with only Virat Kohli making a consistent impact, along with Cheteshwar Pujara. There can be no complaints about India’s pacers who have matched – and maybe even bettered – their South African, English and Australian counterparts in 2018.

Shami and Ishant have been the models of consistency.

Shami and Ishant have been models of consistency.

In the three Tests against Australia so far, India’s pace attack has outperformed Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood. Bumrah and Co have picked up 45 wickets while Australia’s fearsome trio have accounted for 37 scalps.

In the 11 Tests India has played outside the subcontinent in 2018, India’s bowlers have picked up 205 out of 220 wickets available to them. When taking into mind that India lost the Lord’s Test against England by an innings, they have effectively picked up 205 out of the 210 available wickets.

It would not be too far-fetched to say that India’s core strength in the Test squad now lies in its fast bowling (and Kohli of course) which is a far cry from the teams of the 1990s and early 2000s which were mostly dependent on batting.

It has been a strange reversal of trends but it is one that Indian fans will absolutely not mind.

While Bumrah, Shami and Ishant have done the bulk of the bowling, there are also Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav lying in the reserves which makes the overall strength of the pace battery even more impressive.

The pace attack has rightly been gaining the accolades from all corners with several former players and pundits terming it as the best that India have ever produced in its history. On the basis of their 2018 showing, it is hard to argue otherwise.

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