Coming from Test cricket’s first ever concussion substitute, it was perhaps not a surprise to hear Marnus Labuschagne quickly putting up his hand to offer to open in place of the injured David Warner for the third and final ODI against India in Canberra on Wednesday.
That said, Labuschagne’s eagerness to slip up to the top of the order from the No. 4 spot he is quickly making his own for Australia in the 50-over game reflected the burgeoning confidence of a home side that have clattered India for scores of 374 and 389 in the opening two games, a product of sound top order platforms to allow Steven Smith and Glenn Maxwell to launch themselves from with something approaching abandon.
On Sunday they were aided significantly by Labuschagne’s “read the game” innings of 70, in which he afforded Smith and Maxwell plenty of the strike but also delivered a powerful blow or two of his own as Virat Kohli’s tourists lurched to a series defeat in the space of their opening two games of the Australian summer. In that context, it was understandable for any member of the Australian top six to want to move higher up the order, not just for runs now, but also to set down a marker ahead of the Test series.
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“Certainly if I got asked to open the batting absolutely it’s an opportunity that I would enjoy doing. We’ll wait and see how our team shapes up for the next game and see the balance of the side, but yeah I would love doing it,” Labuschagne said. “My role at No.4 is just to read the situation of the game and play my role accordingly.
“We had Steve in so when I came to the crease it was just about building a partnership and a bit of momentum with him, and taking a back seat for the start of my innings. When he was dismissed then me and Maxy could play a bit more expansively. It was really nice to be able to do the job at the back of the innings, which is something that I haven’t had too many opportunities at. But I definitely think it’s very important that I read the game and understand the situation of the game and play accordingly.
“Cricket’s a massive confidence game and even though it’s a different format, it still gives you a lot of confidence when you’re scoring runs consistently and the way Steve and Davey are batting currently, I’ve got no doubt they’ll be able to transfer that into the Test summer. But right now there’s still a lot of games to be played before that, we’ve just got to make sure we finish this one-day series well and then straight into the T20s where we start really well.”
Labuschagne has batted alongside Smith in a range of contrasting scenarios already, from the tough conditions in the 2019 Ashes to the short-ball attacks from New Zealand last summer. But he had never seen Smith attack quite so brutally as he did in the two SCG innings, where the second of his 62-ball centuries was achieved dispute a bout of morning vertigo that had left him momentarily doubting his ability to take the field.
“That was one of the best innings I’ve seen in one-day cricket, not only from Steve but from anyone,” Labuschagne said. “I think the way he batted yesterday was superb. It almost felt like he didn’t give an opportunity, didn’t really take any risk, but he got a hundred off 62 balls.
“When someone’s doing that, that’s kind of scary. It was really nice to build that partnership with him, 136, it was just nice to keep ticking it over and we were really busy through that middle part when we came together, then towards the back end Steve really took the game on and that’s how we got 390. They’re two very big scores in the last two games, thanks obviously to Steve.”
As for the undoubted contrast between Australia’s largely energetic performances and the struggles of India, Labuschagne acknowledged that playing at home and having a portion of the squad present for the early round of the Sheffield Shield was an advantage.
“It definitely helps to have a few games under your belt just to get the pace and the timing of the game from T20s to one-dayers to four-day cricket,” he said. “But a lot of these players we’re talking about, they’ve been doing it for a long time, they’re not new to the changes of format. I’d be surprised if they didn’t shift back into gear very quickly. In say that it’s a slight advantage, four out of our top six have been playing Shield cricket and got that rhythm as a batting group.”