There has been something similar about the way the Aussies have come about in each Test since the third game of Ashes 2019. No, not the dominance, that has been the subject. Yes, they retained the Ashes in England and are presently en-route to an unbeaten run at home (as part of the ongoing World Test Championship). But the subject is the reason behind this revival. While many expected the return of the indomitable pair of Steve Smith and David Warner to carve out Australia's recovery story in Test cricket, but the two have merely been playing second fiddle to the protagonist. Amid the simultaneous on-and-off performance of Smith and Warner, the Aussie and world cricket witnessed and is still, the meteoric rise of Marnus Labuschagne. And his story has been the same despite the opponents.
It all began with a chance of a lifetime. With Jofra Archer fatally striking down Smith during the second Test of the Ashes series, the former skipper was ruled out of the remainder of the game and hence would miss out on batting in the second innings. Labuschagne was named as the replacement, probably a temporary one.
Up until August 14, the day Labuschagne became Test cricket's first-ever concussion substitute as per the new ICC rules, the 25-year-old had played only six international matches for Australia all in the Test format. Having made his debut in October 2018, against Pakistan in UAE, Labuschagne was looked at only as a second-spinning option to Nathan Lyon. While his best bowling came in Abu Dhabi, in his debut series, where he managed to pick seven wickets overall, and his batting in his first six Tests were only decent.
For his Ashes call-up, Labuschagne managed to bag the spot on the back of three centuries he scored his first four first-class games for Glamoragan and also became the first player in county to amass 1000 first-class runs in 2019 season. He was called up as a back-up middle-order option besides his leg-spinning capabilities with the ball.
Labuschagne scored 59 runs in his debut Ashes appearance and was in fact the highest in Australia's second innings, which eventually paved his way into the playing XI for the third Test. He followed it up with well-crafted scores of 74 and 80 which pulled Australia out of trouble in both the occasions only to see his side go down in vain at Headingley. However, Labuschagne was praised by the legendary Sachin Tendulkar who said, "I have been watching a little bit of Ashes and I thought someone like Marnus Labuschagne has left the ball brilliantly, which is something that you don't get to see in Test cricket. Normally you tend to glide those balls to third man and pick [up] a single. But the kind of surfaces they are playing on, if you steer the ball you go to the dressing room."
He ended the series with 353 runs in seven innings at 50.43 an average - the fourth-most in the contest and second among Aussies. In November 2019, Labuschagne, who was still looking to cement his place in Australia's Test squad, was named for the Pakistan series at him. He scored his maiden Test century in the opener en route to his career-best 185 and scored his second Test century in the second Test, at the Adelaide Oval, en route to 162. He eventually bagged a hat-trick with his knock of 143 runs off 169 deliveries in the first Test against New Zealand.
Like Smith, Labuschagne too is a batsman with idosyncraycies, but the way he tackled the spinners in the Pakistan series was note-worthy - with the flick of the wrist and playing against it without putting the wicket at danger. And in the Ashes series, he showed his toughness not just on the bouncy Lord's track against lethal Archer, but also stood strong against the English attack amid lack of support from other end. He is both courageous and skillful - just way coach Justin Langer likes in his players.
Labuschagne has worked mostly under batting coach Neil D'Costa, also considered a guru, who had earlier coached Michael Clarke and Phillip Hughes. "I'm from a subcontinental background, you can see the way he plays, there's a lot of the subcontinent in the way he bats. You look at Virat Kohli and Marnus, biomechanically there are similarities," D'Costa was quoted by Sydney Morning herald.
Labuschagne, Australia’s newfound No.3, ended the year with 1104 runs in 11 matches – the most by any player in 2019 and the only player to breach the 1000-run mark in the year. He averaged 64.94 and his run tally was laced with three centuries and seven fifties. Besides, the 25-year-old also jumped as high to No. 4 in the ICC Test rankings standing only behind the 'Big Three' Virat Kohli, Steve Smith and Kane Williamson.
“I just keeping it process-driven and not on results,” Labuschagne told cricket.com.au after the Perth Test against New Zealand. “Making sure that every innings I come in with a clear mind and making sure I’m playing what’s in front of me and not what’s happened in the past and not what I want to achieve — it’s right in the moment. Apart from that I’m just loving it.
On Friday, Labuschagne once again scored a century, his fourth in seven innings at home this season. With Smith ably assisting the youngster, Labuschagne was disciplined in his approach against the Kiwi attack. He tackled the outside-off deliveries smartly, used his feet well against the spinners and cleverly withstood against the shorter deliveries.
The unexpected revelation for the Aussies has indeed been a pleasure with the batting lineup now having a third shoulder besides Warner and Smith to depend upon. And together, the trio can form a formidable lineup that can guide Australia to top of the World Test Championship.