A bucket of runs over a sensational six-month period later, and Marnus Labuschagne sits on the verge of a making his ODI debut in the Wankhede stadium against a formidable India side.
Few would have imagined it to be the case just a year ago, with the Australia batsman barely shining since being fast-tracked to the Test outfit in October 2018 for a series against Pakistan.
A lot has happened for Labuschagne since, and it was not always as straightforward as it seems now. Here, we chart the topsy-turvy ride of the 25-year-old which has culminated into his emergence as a star batsman.
Hints of promise in scratchy debut
Jumping ahead of the queue of several first-class performers, Labuschagne’s debut came in the UAE in a two-Test series against Pakistan. Surprisingly, his most notable contributions of the series came with his leg-spin clinching seven wickets across the two Tests.
With the bat, he was unable to make an impression with a dogged second-innings 43 in the final Test in Abu Dhabi being his highest score in the series. His first innings in Test cricket ended in a silver duck in Dubai while the second innings saw a minor improvement of 13 runs. In his four innings in the series, Labuschagne fell to spin twice, once to pace while also being run-out on one occasion.
Surprise call-up for India series
Following his dismal showings with the bat against Pakistan, not many expected Labuschagne to be recalled as quickly as he was. However, Steve Smith and David Warner’s continued absence, due to their suspensions, left the door open for the South Africa-born batsman to earn another Test cap.
Eyebrows were raised when Labuschagne was drafted into the squad for the final Test against India in Sydney. Nothing about his first-class career screamed Australia international at the time with his average in the domestic red-ball competition standing at a rather unspectacular 33. However, he retained the faith of the Australia selection panel and a third Test cap followed soon after.
In the drawn Test against India in Sydney, Labuschagne emerged as Australia’s second-highest run-scorer with a gritty knock of 38 in the first innings. With Kuldeep Yadav running riot with a five-wicket haul, Australia were bundled out for just 300 runs with Labuschagne being one of the few batsmen to muster any sort of resistance.
Mixed series against Sri Lanka
That promising showing in Sydney was awarded with another call-up in the home series against Sri Lanka and Labuschagne grabbed the chance by notching up his highest Test score. The Queenslander brought up his maiden Test fifty on the way to a score of 81 as the home side racked up an innings victory in Brisbane.
However, from the highs of Brisbane came the lows of Canberra with Labuschagne producing a poor display in the second Test. The top-order batsman could aggregate just the 10 runs across the two innings after being caught-behind by wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella on both occasions.
The Manuka Oval horror-show from Labuschagne ensured that all the good will that Labuschagne had earned from his Sydney and Brisbane displays had evaporated. It was back to the drawing board for the right-hander who subsequently signed for a County Championship stint with Glamorgan as overseas cover for Shaun Marsh.
The Glamorgan revival
Accepting the shortcomings in his batting, Labuschagne showed the willingness to improve himself by penning a deal with Glamorgan. The English county game has proved to be the making of several stars in the past and it proved to be perfect tonic for the Australian to revive his red-ball career.
While an open stance and a flourishing cover drive had defined his style previously, a minor correction in technique in Glamorgan proved to be the game-changer for Labuschagne. At the insistence of Glamorgan coach Matthew Maynard, Labuschagne changed his stance by making corrections to his hip and back-foot placement at the time of facing a delivery.
With a more side-on hip placement and a back-boot firmly planted parallel to the crease, Labuschagne was able to play with a straight bat to most deliveries. That, and a greater awareness of where his off-stump stood, saw the emergence of a completely different batsman compared to the one who had arrived in England.
Previously, most of Labuschagne’s runs were coming through the covers but his change in stance meant that his scoring areas had completely changed with most of his runs now coming through the mid-wicket region.
The results followed with immediate effect with Labuschagne registering five tons and as many half-centuries in his 18 first-class innings with Glamorgan. 1,114 runs at an average of nearly 62 meant that the right-hander was perfectly placed for an Ashes call-up as Australia flew down to England for the historic five-match series.
Concussion substitute changes the game
Despite an extremely fruitful county stint, Labuschagne had to contend for a place on the bench in the Ashes with Steve Smith and David Warner making their returns from suspension. However, a newly incorporated rule and a brutal Jofra Archer bouncer in the second Test at Lord’s meant that fate had something else in store for Labuschagne.
Coming on in place of Smith in the second innings as Test cricket’s first official concussion substitute, he passed a difficult examination in flying colours by scoring an accomplished 59. This, despite taking a similarly ugly blow to the head from an Archer bouncer early into his innings.
From there on, there was no looking back for Labuschagne who registered four fifties on the bounce in the drawn series to firmly establish his Australia Test credentials.
Sublime home summer unleashes Labuschagne’s best
While his Ashes revival had already propelled him into the limelight, the best was yet come for Labuschagne in an extended home summer for Australia. Having missed out on a maiden century despite umpteen fifties in England, the batsman was determined to make it big on home soil. Make it big he did, and how!
Scores of 185 and 162 in his two Tests against Pakistan showed that the boy was now becoming a man and he soon made it three tons in a row when New Zealand came calling at the Gabba. Two more half-centuries against the Kiwis meant that Labuschagne ended the calendar year as the top run-scorer in the Test format while being the only batsman to breach the 1,000-run barrier.
It would be hard for any man to top such a brilliant year, but the Aussie started 2020 in an even more devastating fashion by slamming his maiden double ton in the final Test against New Zealand.
This incredible purple patch for Labuschagne has seen him shoot up to the lofty position of No3 in the ICC Test rankings, with Virat Kohli and Smith being the only batsmen to feature ahead of him.
No better place than India to make ODI debut
It was no surprise to see a maiden ODI call-up arrive for Labuschagne on the back of his astounding Test streak. With batting friendly pitches set to greet both teams for the upcoming three-match series in India, there is no better place for the Aussie to make his first ODI appearance.
His temperament has definitely been the most impressive quality since the Ashes comeback, with the right-hander showing great discretion when it comes to his shot selection. Leaving deliveries wide off the stump has been his trademark which has forced bowlers to bowl much straighter to him. That in turn has played into his hands with his new stance aiding him to score runs straight down the ground or through either side of the bowling crease.
How this style translates into the limited-overs formats will now be interesting to see. Leaving the wider deliveries will not be an option anymore and it remains to be seen if Labuschagne will bring in any further tweaks to his technique. The Aussie is determined to be an all-format player and has expressed his desire to be discussed in the same bracket as Smith, Kohli, Kane Williamson and Joe Root.
“You look at the guys I look up to and aspire to – Steve Smith, Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson, Joe Root. They’ve been doing it for a long time, five, six years they’ve been consistent, not just in one format, but two or more formats,” he had said prior to Australia’s departure for India.
It is now time for Labuschagne’s bat to do the talking in the subcontinent, and you wouldn’t count against it based on the evidence of the past few months.
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