Labuschagne wants to 'keep improving' at No. 5 after disappointing Sri Lanka tour

Labuschagne wants to ‘keep improving’ at No. 5 after disappointing Sri Lanka tour

Marnus Labuschagne is an avowed handyman when it comes to his stick, sometimes changing things up mid-innings, and he’s focused on using the next six ODIs against Zimbabwe and New Zealand in northern Australia to continue to fit his middle-order game with just over a year before the World Cup.
Labuschagne now has 21 ODIs to his name since making his debut shortly before Covid disrupted play – the opening ODI against Zimbabwe in Townsville on August 28 will be Australia’s first at home since November 2020. He scored a century in his fifth innings, a stirring performance against South Africa in the country of his birth, and also had a sparkling few half-centuries either side of Australia’s 13-month absence from the format.
However, he was frustrated by his feedback on the recent tour in Sri Lankaeven knowing there were tough conditions as the series progressed, having dropped between 18 and 31 in all five rounds.

“Looking back on it, I definitely would have liked to play in a slightly different way,” he told ESPNcricinfo. “I almost started a bit too defensively so I’m just going over my theories there and I would have liked to apply my testing method a bit more in those conditions; sweeping the ball, using my feet a bit more. It was a little disappointing on my end, that I didn’t really do that until the Test series came in. For me, it’s a learning experience.

Part of that learning is adjusting more regularly to what could be the No. 5 position. He struck there twice in Sri Lanka, with Josh Inglis and Travis Head in the slot above, and although none of these players are part of the current team, Mitchell Marsh and Steven Smith could both beat Labuschagne.

“I like the different challenges, that’s for sure,” he said. “I always like to hit in the top order, I’ve been there all my life, but to understand the composition of the team, to hit at No. 5, I have to continue to improve in this role and through the intermediates understand when it comes to attacking and defending. It’s a question of confidence in me. That’s what’s great with the technical staff, they have total confidence in us as players, to face the match and put the pressure back on the opponent.

“Being really positive out of the blocks is key for me. Understanding what the situation is. If we’re okay, it’s about making sure I put the other hitter on strike if he really has momentum and starts to build the partnership. Putting the bowler under pressure from the first ball and if I can do that, it definitely changes the dynamic.

There have been discussions about whether there is room for Labuschagne and Smith in the ODI middle order, with career strike rates of 85.80 and 88.43 respectively, but unsurprisingly, Labuschagne doesn’t have a bar of it. In November 2020, the pair produced a stand of 136 in 16 overs against India at SCG which gave a glimpse of how they could work together.

“I don’t really see us as similar players, I think we attack the game very differently,” Labuschagne said. “[Steve] goes much straighter to the wicket, especially against spin, as I attack him pretty squarely with sweeps. Obviously, I think there is room for both of us. Steve got 100 out of 60 balls against India in consecutive games and feels like we complement each other depending on the situation. If it’s a difficult wicket we can control the middlemen, but on the other side we can put pressure on the opponent with less risk and be able to score quickly. The challenge is that we just have to keep pushing that pace, especially when we’re first at bat, and we both understand that. ยป

On the broader theme of ODI format status in the game at a time when the schedule is unprecedented, Labuschagne is equally enthusiastic and hopes to add another chapter to Australia’s World Cup legacy next year in India.

“I love cricket over 50, it’s a good mix, you have to have really good tactical sense, understand your opposition, get wickets through the middle overs and try to score at seven or eight low-risk runs, that’s a different challenge in itself. I really like the format, there’s room for all three, it’s just on how we schedule it.

“The history that comes with one-day cricket makes it such an incredible format. There have been so many great World Cup wins over so many years, so to be part of a World Cup would be a amazing experience and looking forward to I still think this is the pinnacle of international white ball events.

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