New Delhi: August 18, 2019, Ashes, Lord’s: Marnus Labuschagne became the first concussion substitute in Test cricket’s history when he replaced a Jofra Archer-hit-Steven Smith, walking out to bat at No. 4 for Australia.
At 19/2 in the sixth over in the second innings, chasing an improbable 266-run target in a maximum of 48 overs, with a steaming Archer red-hot with the new ball, Australia sans Smith were in trouble, real trouble.
An Archer snorter at 91.6 miles per hour welcomed Labuschagne at the crease and hit him in the helmet – the second ball he faced in the innings.
Australia lost Bancroft in the 14th over and were struggling at 47/ 3. Labuschagne put his head down, occupied the crease and countered whatever was thrown at him – from Archer, Stokes, Woakes, Broad and Leach.
By the time he was dismissed at 132/4 in the 36th over, he had played out enough time and deliveries to ensure that Australia get through with a draw.
Labuschagne top-scored in the innings with 59 but more crucial were the number of deliveries he faced – 100 – again the maximum in the 4th innings of the match. He batted for 2 hrs and 15 minutes – which basically meant a little more than a session – but this was the last and the most difficult session of the match.
That innings showed Australia had unearthed a new star.
Prior to this knock, Labuschagne had scored just 210 runs in 8 innings (5 Tests) at an average of 26.25 with a solitary fifty.
The Lord’s innings transformed his career and since then the South Africa born, Labuschagne has aggregated 956 runs in 12 innings at an average of 79.66 including 3 hundreds and 6 fifties.
Overall, he has scored 1,085 runs in 11 Tests (16 innings) at an average of 67.81 in the calendar year. Not only is he the highest run-getter in Test cricket this year but also the only one to cross 1,000 runs in the format.
Occupying the crease and scoring runs are the two hallmarks which define Labuschagne’s batting this year.
He has, on an average, faced approximately 122 deliveries per innings in 2019 and only BJ Watling (142) and Smith (138) have fared better on this count than Labuschagne (min. 500 runs in the year).
Even in terms of number of minutes batted, according to the data available, Labuschagne is amongst the top 3 batsmen of the year.
All his runs post Lord’s have come from the No. 3 or No. 4 position – an indication that he thrives batting in the top-order as compared to before when he was floated between three and seven.
Most of his runs in the Ashes came under pressure after Australia had lost early wickets. He top-scored in both the innings with 74 (from 25 for 2) and 80 (from 36 for 2 which worsened to 52/3) in the Ashes Test at Leeds and followed that with 67 (from 1 for 1, 28/2) in Manchester adding a match-changing 116 for the third-wicket with Smith.
He again paired with Smith after Australia lost both their openers within the first 6 overs at the Oval resurrecting the innings with a solid 48. The confidence he gained from his efforts in the Ashes added a new dimension to his batting – the ability to score big runs.
He smashed 185 and 162 in Brisbane and Adelaide handing Australia victory by an innings in both the Tests against Pakistan.
There was no stopping him now. He top-scored for Australia at Perth against New Zealand occupying the crease for 369 minutes for his 143, almost batting for a day.
He became only the third Australian batsman to achieve this feat after Charles Macartney in 1926 and Don Bradman in 1937-38.
Labuschagne again came to Australia’s rescue in the ongoing Boxing Day Test scoring a dogged 63 after losing the early wicket of Burns.
Such has been his remarkable consistency that he has failed just twice in 12 innings since Lord’s. He has recorded 6 fifties and 3 hundreds in this period.
Labuschagne has paired with Warner to form the most successful partnership of the calendar year. The duo have added 707 runs in just six innings at an average of 117.83 including three hundred stands.
He has also put together 442 runs with Smith at 63.14 including two hundred partnerships and 420 runs with Travis Head at an average of 60.
Labuschagne has been an outright match-winner for Australia this year as his average of 78.77 in victorious Tests indicates. A total of 709 of his 1,085 runs (65%) have come in wins for Australia. Moreover, six of his nine fifty-plus scores in completed Tests in 2019 have come in victorious Tests.
A gritty, determined, old-fashioned Test batsman, Marnus Labuschagne has the technique and the temperament to make it big for Australia.
It all started on that fateful day as a concussion substitute at Lord’s. If he continues in this vein a lot of opposition captains and bowlers will feel concussed.