Marnus Labuschagne is cricket’s man of the moment.
Focus again centered on Australia’s rising star in his ODI baptism during the recently concluded short tour of India.
The right-handed batsman’s blazing run of form over the last five months in Test whites has propelled him to instant stardom and has naturally placed an even greater microscope on his first forays into the world of limited-overs cricket.
Ahead of the three-match ODI series against the Indians, Labuschagne had proclaimed his intentions to establish himself as an all-format batsman. On the evidence of his two outings against the Men in Blue, the Queenslander looked completely at home in the yellows of Australia and looks set for a bright future in limited-overs cricket.
The 25-year-old scored a fine 46 on his ODI debut in Rajkot, before following it up with his first half-century in the Bengaluru clash. Labuschagne’s displays in the two innings earned the stamp of approval from India skipper Virat Kohli – arguably the greatest all-format batsman in the world.
“I think he’s got the right mindset to be a consistent player, to be a top player in the world for a while. He’s shown that in Test cricket, he’s shown that in one-day cricket, and I’m sure if he plays T20 cricket, he’ll show the same clarity there as well,” Kohli said after India’s 2-1 series win.
The glowing assessment of Labuschagne’s all-format chops are not just limited to Kohli and here, we look at the aspects that stood out about the Australian’s batting style in India.
Retained the solid principles of Test cricket
In his second coming in Test cricket, Labuschagne had shown a calm head on his shoulders with a new and improved batting stance. The slight change in his technique has paid huge dividends and helped him develop a compact and solid batting style bereft of loose strokes away from the body.
The Aussie did not ditch that approach on his ODI debut and continued to carry the style which has served him so well in red-ball cricket. Playing largely with a straight bat, Labuschagne forced the bowlers to bowl to his strengths.
Never panicking during his time at the crease, he focused more on the accumulation of runs through classical shot-making while making sure to punish the odd bad delivery for a boundary.
Finesse over power
The hallmark of great ODI players such as Virat Kohli, Joe Root and Babar Azam is the fact that these batsmen hardly rely on boundaries to rack up big totals. Without taking any undue risks, these players can race away to a run-a-ball fifty or century in the blink of an eye.
The same trait was displayed by Labuschagne who barely played a shot in anger in both of his knocks. The ICC Emerging Player of the Year for 2019 registered nine boundaries in total over the course of the two ODIs, which amounts to just 36 of his aggregate of 100 runs.
There were no wild slogs or heaves from Labuschagne’s bat with excellent placement being his go-to mantra in the series. Piercing the infield with his cover drives, late cuts and flicks towards the on-side, he was always in control against the bowlers.
Excellent running between the wickets
The most pleasing aspect of Labuschagne’s showings was his terrific running between the wickets. Be it pace or spin, the right-hander effortlessly rotated the strike by picking up quick singles and doubles.
Running between the wickets might not seem that crucial in Test cricket where attacking fields are the general theme, but they assume great significance when it comes to the shorter formats of the game.
Players like Kohli, Root and MS Dhoni have turned running between the wickets into an art in white-ball cricket and Labuschagne certainly looks to be built in the same vein. What is certain is that the Australian can crank up the speed in the middle with his batting pads on.
Authoritative against the spinners
Another impressive quality shown by Labuschagne was his willingness to take on India’s spinners in their own backyard. Although both of his dismissals might have ultimately come at the hands of Ravindra Jadeja, he was largely on top of the slower bowlers.
His command against spin was most visible in the manner in which he lofted Kuldeep Yadav for an inside-out boundary over cover in the Rajkot ODI. The shot came just moments after he had arrived at the crease and showcased his confidence in playing against the turn.
He also showed that he can counter spin with a powerful sweep shot in his armoury.
With the ease in which he faced both pacers and spinners alike, Labuschagne is fast developing a reputation as a complete batsmen with barely any real weaknesses.
Partnership with Smith
Labuschagne has made no secret about idolising Steve Smith and the similarities in the approaches of the two Australian batsmen have been clear to see. It gets even better when the two are batting together in the middle, with both players championing the risk-averse style of limited-overs cricket highlighted by some excellent running between the wickets.
The duo seem to share an almost telepathic understanding and were able to stick together giant partnerships in the second and third ODIs. In Rajkot, they added 96 runs together for the fourth wicket, while in Bengaluru they forged a 127-run stand.
David Warner and Aaron Finch are one of the most explosive opening partnerships in limited-overs cricket and the arrival of Labuschagne has added much required steel in the middle for Australia.
With Smith and Labuschagne coming in at No3 and No4 respectively, Australia have two batsmen who can accumulate runs at a healthy rate in the middle overs and build a solid foundation before the death overs arrive.
Wicketkeeper Alex Carey has shown plenty of promise down the order as well and Australia are probably just an in-form Glenn Maxwell away from establishing one of the most complete and devastating batting orders in ODI cricket.
As for Labuschagne, his style seems perfectly suited to his role at the top of the order, and should become an ODI mainstay in the years to come. The next step of Labuschagne’s evolution is T20 cricket and it will be interesting to see if he can replicate his Test and ODI success for Brisbane Heat in the remainder of the Big Bash League (BBL) campaign.
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