How quickly Marnus turned and ran out onto the field! his batting coach Neil D’Costa told this newspaper on the day of his concussion test. He later told me he knew he had to get out quickly so Smith wouldn’t change his mind!
A match-winning 100-ball century (59) on the final day helped the Australian save not only the Test but also his career, which had wandered aimlessly up to that point after eight largely unremarkable performances. The first ball he faced was an equally treacherous bouncer that hit his badge. But he survived and thrived.
Before the break, his ODI stocks bottomed out in three years when he scored just 532 runs in 22 matches at an average of 25. 80 and a strike rate of 77.98. It was a laborious phase when he lost his vigor in hitting boundaries and also struggled with the batting rotation. He was also considered too similar to Steve Smith in approach and role in ODIs.
But in Bloemfontein, just 250 kilometers awayx from his hometown of Klerksdorp, he became a batsman reborn. Taking the field at 73-5, he played the role of the perfect anchor-finisher to end the 225-run chase. He ended up being the best player in the series, scoring 96 runs. In only five games has he hit the fence more often (34 fours and two sixes) than in the previous 22 innings (31 and two).
He attributes this turnaround to a change in mindset and preparation rather than any sophisticated improvements in technique. I always pride myself on practicing well and always being ready. I was very disappointed with the way I played one-day cricket, in the last 10-12 matches I felt I didn’t show the intensity and grit that I would have liked. But here I showed a lot of intensity and courage, he said after scoring 124 off 99 balls in the second game.
Evident was a batsman who was not too fixated on his technique or movements, rather a batsman who seemed to enjoy the game rather than the of expectations imposed on him, as has been the case for much of the Ash game. The most impactful shots continued to be back foot kicks through the covers, whipping spurts and flicks, and whipping drives on the rise. But he improvised in between, such as reverse-sweeping to wink his second hundred (in just 80 balls) in this format, or paddle-sweeping and feather tickling the ground, manipulating the spaces for singles and doubles. Against spinners, he unpacked his swipes and slog-sweeps, though not as often as he did during the Test series in India a few months ago.
The middle-order batsman is not a difficult conundrum for Australia, especially after the return of Steve Smith. But Australia could benefit not only from his skill at executing strokes against spin bowling, but also his understanding of the game and experience. In nThe Australian national team has plenty of all-rounders, but has a reputation for being an inconsistent and unstable team. Mitchell Marsh, Cameron Green, Marcus Stoinis and Glenn Maxwell on his day can perform in the deciding match, but such performances don’t happen very often. Even the injured Travis Head may not be able to cope with quality spinners in the sub-continent. Thus, Labuschagne brings a steely character to a line-up comprising mostly of attacking batsmen. He can mitigate Australia’s frenetic and ultimately self-destructive approach in the last three ODIs of the South African series. In all three matches, the Aussies have gone into the lead by the 35th over.
In a sub-continent where coverage can be low and slow, two batsmen in anchor form can be useful. Besides, it’s not like Smith and Labuschagne can’t lead their innings in higher gear. If Smith is fit, they could try both in the three-match ODI series against India starting September 22 to see how the equation works out.
Despite Australia possessing a generally settled lineup, after the The return of players absent from the South African series, in addition to familiarizing themselves with the conditions, will require fine-tuning. The five-time champions have settled on a lineup, but not a strong eleven. The race among their all-rounders state appears to be the most interesting. Five bowling all-rounders are vying for a maximum of three places. Marsh is an automatic choice, given his form as well as his utility as an opener; Maxwell is too, as he is the only spinner among them. Thus, only one can slip between Stoinis, Green and Shaun Abbott. Stoinis has incredible power and a deadly yorker, Green is adept at heading the ball both ways and Abbott could be the ideal first-chance bowler to challenge the not-quite-jumpy Josh Hazlewood for a place.
The selectors’ eyes will be on the spinners as well. Australia have picked just two specialists – Adam Zampa and Tanvir Sangha. The latter, a lego spinner, has played just one match, but his masterty will be put to the test against India’s in-form batsmen. Maybe Sangha just needs the winking glimpse of destiny that Labuschagne found at Lord’s and Bloemfontein.
Something to look forward to
Warner meets Ashwin: David Warner was due to retire from Test cricket before the New Year and Ravi Ashwin was already out of ODIs before the surprise call-up for this series, and it looked as if their pairing would never meet again. But they will meet again in this series, and possibly in the World Cup, for the last time. Whenever Ashwin has played, Warner has averaged 21.81 in Tests and 22 in ODIs. In the last three ODIs against India involving Ashwin, the off-spinner has beaten him twice. In Tests, Ashwin has thrown 11 times in 32 matches. Can he finally defeat the devil that has tormented him the most since Stuart Broad?
How Zampa would have bowled in India: His first three games in India in 2017 were unforgettable. He scored just fourFour wickets and conceded 6.36 runs per over. But in the subsequent visits, he proved to be at his best and helped Australia win two of the three ODI series in India. In the next 11 matches, he took 20 wickets at a strike rate of 25.7 and an economy rate of 5.1. Over the years, he has added a lot of variations to his arsenal and improved his control and accuracy. But he can still have bad days, as happened in Centurion when he conceded 113 runs in 10 wickets. How he recovers from such defeats will make a huge difference to Australia’s progression to the knockout stages.
Fitness of leading pacers: The trio of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins at full strength are a lethal line-up. But their playing form is always a concern, even more so in a year when they have toured India and England for grueling Test matches. Cummins Starc has not played an ODI this year as a result of rest and injury, while Hazlewood looked far from his best in South Africa, where he wpI participated in the 50-over tournament for the first time this year, and in the last two games I’ve allowed 8 runs per game. As experienced as they are, they need time to come around.