Three years on from making his debut, Australia’s Marnus Labuschagne has climbed to the top of the MRF Tyres ICC Test batting rankings.
It is right reward for a man boasting six centuries and 12 fifties across his first 20 Tests, garnering him an average of 62.14. Among batters to have played at least 20 Test innings, only the incomparable Don Bradman (99.94) averaged more.
Here, we chart his rise to the top of the Test batting rankings.
A first taste
Labuschagne’s first taste of Test action actually came in 2014.
As a 20-year-old, Labuschagne was brought on as a substitute fielder at the Gabba during the Border-Gavaskar series Down Under. It was here that he snared a contender for catch of the summer, diving forward at short leg to catch Varun Aaron millimetres off the ground off the bowling of Nathan Lyon.
It would take close to four years for the eccentric star to get his first taste being an actual Test cricketer, with his debut coming in Dubai in October 2018 in a match most remembered for Usman Khawaja’s brilliant final innings 141 to force a draw.
Labuschagne, for his part, had a forgettable match with the bat, falling for a second-ball duck in the first innings and out for 13 in the second. He did however pick up a wicket in each of Pakistan’s innings, as well as running out Babar Azam. He gave a better account of himself in the second Test, making scores of 25 and 43.
A surprise at No.3
Labuschagne’s next taste of Test cricket saw him selected at first drop for the first time by Australia.
Left out of the side for the first three matches of the Border-Gavaskar series, the Queenslander was turned to for the Sydney Test with Australia trailing the series 2-1. The promotion to No.3 came somewhat out of the blue. Given Australia has typically seen the position as the most important in a Test batting order, it was a surprise to see them entrust the role with a man averaging a commendable but not breathtaking average of 33.17.
He made 38 in his lone innings of the rain-affected match and was retained for Australia’s next two Tests for the summer, making scores of 81 and 6.
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The concussion super-sub
Labuschagne’s first four Tests came in a period where Australia were without the services of their two best batters – David Warner and Steve Smith.
Upon their return, he found himself out of the XI again but still retained in the Ashes squad.
It was in Smith’s absence that Labuschagne returned to the side and he has not looked back since. Returning to Australia duty as a concussion substitute for Smith in Australia’s second innings of the second Ashes Test, the right-hander made a fighting 59 that helped secure an important draw at Lord’s.
Reaping the benefits of a revamped technique procured during a stint in county cricket, Labuschagne was a batter transformed, finishing the series with four half-centuries and a campaign average of 50.42.
Dominant Down Under
During the Ashes, there had been signs of how special a batter Labuschagne might just be. In the 2019/20 summer down under, his potential came to fruition as he dominated all comers.
In the opening Test of the summer, at the Gabba, he notched his maiden Test ton, scoring 185 runs off 279 balls. He backed that up with 162 in the Adelaide Oval day-nighter to finish the two-match series against Pakistan with an average of 347 for the campaign.
He made it three centuries in three consecutive innings with his 143 against New Zealand and after going two Tests without a ton – he did manage two fifties – he made up for lost time by making his first double-century. His numbers for the season were 896 runs at 112 with four centuries and three fifties.
Having averaged 20.25 going into 2019, by early January 2020 his average had climbed to 63.43.
Resolute against India
A surprise selection at No.3 last time the two teams met, Labuschagne was a bonafide star of the Australian team when they took on India in 2020/21.
Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane’s team managed what few have in recent times, keeping the prodigious talent quiet through the early stages of the series. At Adelaide Oval he scored a scratchy, but important, 47 and a less important 6, before scores of 48 and 28 as the Aussies went down at the MCG.
He came back with a vengeance in the second half of the series, notching 91 and 73 in a thrilling match at the SCG before scoring his lone ton for the summer in an even more incredible match at the Gabba. Unfortunately for Australia, neither match ended in victory for them as India took out the series 2-1.
Starring against England
It was against England that Labuschagne first showed signs of the player he would become, and fittingly it is against England that he has completed his climb to the top of the MRF Tyres ICC Test batting rankings.
The 27-year-old started his campaign with a dashing 74 at the Gabba, following it up with a first-innings ton at Adelaide Oval and a second-innings 51 to secure Player of the Match honours.
It was the first century of Labuschagne’s Ashes career and sixth in Tests overall.
One suspects there are many more to come.
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