Having dominated the home Test summer, Marnus Labuschagne wants to become a multi-format master in the vein of Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson, Joe Root and his friend and team-mate Steven Smith as he embarks on a first ODI tour for Australia to face India on the subcontinent.
It was in the 50-over game that Labuschagne first showed promise as a busy middle-order batsman, winning player of the tournament in the domestic limited-overs tournament in 2016 for Queensland before being part of the National Cricket Centre intake the following year.
He subsequently earned his chance for Australia in Test matches, making a quantum leap during the 2019 Ashes in England and then carrying on to still more masterful displays against Pakistan and New Zealand. Now, granted the chance to be part of Australia’s white-ball squad for the first time, Labuschagne has revealed the long-term consistency and a role across formats for the national team are his major goals for the future.
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“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 very long time, five, six years they’ve been consistent, not just in one format, but two or more formats,” Labuschagne told ESPNcricinfo before departing for India. “So for me personally there’s a lot to learn and a lot to grow, because I’ve had some success this summer but the real challenge for me is to be more consistent going on and being able to keep putting continued performances on the board.
“If I can continue to do that, then that’s obviously going to be the challenge for me, and getting an opportunity in this one-day series is an opportunity for me to show a slightly different part of my game that we haven’t seen this summer, but that’s a really exciting challenge too.”
As an example for the type of adaptable, evolving batsman Labuschagne would like to be, he admitted that the standard set by Michael Hussey for Australia, where he started life as an opening batsman but developed into a player capable of playing just about any role in the top six, while also adding power to his game to dominate the back end of an innings, was a hard one to ignore.
“With the opportunities that might come in the next few months, we’ll have to see, but definitely Michael Hussey is a great person to learn from,” Labuschagne said. “The way he played the one-day game, the way he finished off the innings and the way he probably started his innings. There are a few similarities there, but I’m definitely not comparing myself to Michael Hussey. My job is to just enjoy these next couple of weeks and then we’ll go from there.
“I can’t look too far ahead of myself and that’s one thing I’ve been able to do the whole summer, keep it really clear, take it game by game, enjoy the moment, make sure I’m really well prepared and really ready to go, but not getting too far ahead of myself is a really key thing for me.”
The likelihood for Labuschagne is that he will play a somewhat different role for Australian than for Queensland, where this season he batted at No. 3. With Aaron Finch, David Warner, and Smith seemingly locked into the top order for Australia, Labuschagne, Peter Handscomb, Alex Carey and Ashton Turner will be juggled in the remaining spots. Labuschagne’s wrist spin bowling, part of the reason he was chosen for Australia’s Test side in the first place, will also be a factor, particularly in the absence of Glenn Maxwell’s off-breaks.
“Whatever role I’m given is one I’m going to try and keep,” he said. “If that’s batting in the top four or even outside the top four, whatever that is, it’s just for me to be able to know I bat at three and four for Queensland so that role in the middle order is one that I’ll probably be given and for me it’s just to be consistent and play that role as best I can.
“A big part of playing in India is how you play spin, so for me being nice and clear with my plans about how I play spin and then just trusting the processes I have. Batting in the middle order it’s about running really hard between wickets and trying to get those runs through the middle, then when you get the opportunity towards the back end to open the shoulders a bit.
“The whole one-day game’s moved in that more aggressive, positive direction, but I’ve been lucky I’ve been able to move with that and play in this era where one-day cricket is a really high scoring game. As batters that’s your job, you need to put big totals on the board, especially if you’re batting first, and it’s also great because it’s going to be tough conditions in India and they’re obviously a very strong side. So just about enjoying the challenge and not getting too far ahead of yourself, taking it ball by ball and game by game.”
As for what awaits Labuschagne after the brief India tour, he said he was hopeful of getting more of an opportunity to play for the Brisbane Heat in the closing stages of the Big Bash League. So far he has played just seven matches over three tournaments for the club, only getting to play one match last summer.
“I’m not sure – I hope when I come back there’s an opportunity there for me to play, and I get some opportunities to showcase my T20 game, which is something that people probably haven’t seen yet,” he said. “But for now I’ll just enjoy this next challenge of one-day cricket and then go from there.”