Let’s write about Marnus Labuschagne today. Let’s write about him tomorrow. Let’s not forget to write about him a day after. Marnus Labuschagne has set some standards in his initial days of International cricket after the innings he played under pressure in second Ashes Test against England.
Imagine a Test match going and as the manager’s hands the team sheet – your name isn’t there. This means, you have been asked to start on the bench and serve water as and when required by on-field players. Now, while you’re in non-match mood, you get to know that you need to play as Steve Smith, who smashed two centuries and 92 in three innings was hit by a bouncer by Jofra Archer.
Becoming the first-ever batsman to be concussion replacement, Labuschagne smashed a gritty 59 as Australia survived to claim a draw and preserve their 1-0 series lead.
If that wasn’t enough, on Tuesday morning - not more than an hour after Smith was ruled out of this week’s third Test - Labuschagne was hit square in the grille by a Mitchell Starc snorter while batting in the nets, requiring medical attention for the second time in the space of four days.
Just as he did at Lord’s, Labuschagne waved the medics away, insisting he was fine.
Needing 288 to avoid an innings defeat by Lancashire, the Welsh county were skittled for 138, losing inside three days. But the fact that they remain third in the Division Two table owes much to their 25-year-old Australian overseas player with the unpronounceable name who smashed a century on his championship debut against Northants and went on to plunder four more before receiving an Ashes call-up from Australia’s selectors.
Labuschagne’s 1,114 runs this summer makes him the competition’s leading run-scorer by a distance, and a major reason why a team who finished bottom of Division Two last season are now challenging for promotion to Division One.
Labuschagne – The replacement Australia wanted
Born in Klerksdorp, in South Africa’s North West province, Australia’s man of the moment grew up speaking Afrikaans, apparently only becoming proficient in English after his family emigrated to Brisbane when he was 10. It seems he was always fluent with bat and ball, though.
A cricket-mad teenager Labuschagne was operating the Hot Spot cameras at the Gabba when Peter Siddle recorded an Ashes hat-trick in the first Test in 2010. He played for Queensland at under-12, under-15, under-17, and under-19 level, and for Redlands Tigers in grade cricket.
It was actually through the Redlands connection that Glamorgan signed him.
Labuschagne had already made his Test debut by then, of course, so he wasn’t a complete unknown. Called up for Australia’s series against Pakistan in the UAE last year, he made a duck in Dubai before scoring 25 and 43 in the second Test in Abu Dhabi. It was his fielding and leg-spin which drew greater attention, Labuschagne taking 3-45 with the ball and producing one particularly smart catch at short leg to dismiss Mohammad Hafeez.
It was not enough to secure him a central contract with Cricket Australia, though, opening the door to Glamorgan. Their gamble paid off in spades.
Australia will hope Labuschagne’s bountiful summer does not end now. He has produced to be an exceptional player who has adapted to the conditions well and taken pressure off the experienced campaigners at this age. Being the first choice for that middle-order spot in the next Test, Labuschagne will look to grab the opportunity with both hands. And if he can replicate last game heroics again, he may well prove to be the difference between two sides.
What will Labuschagne become or not, who knows till then, stay with those timely inside out cover drives and pulls in front of square. Sometimes, a cricketer is just about his cricket. And there’s no nickname needed.