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Cricket World Cup 2023

Warner and Head have answered one World Cup question for Australia, but Labuschagne has asked another

Marnus Labuschagne has left Australia with a top order question ahead of the World Cup
by Katya Witney 3 minute read

Australia have quietly established themselves as one of the favourites for the 2023 World Cup, but Marnus Labuschagne’s sudden burst of ODI form has disrupted their plans.

Travis Head and David Warner’s opening stand against South Africa in the second ODI effectively closed a pressing question for Australia. Since Aaron Finch’s retirement, a permanent spot has been open at the top of the order. Four of the seven openers Australia have used since 2019 are part of their World Cup squad – Mitchell Marsh, Josh Inglis, Labuschagne and Head. Aside from Head and Warner, Marsh was the opener tried most recently against India earlier this year, where he scored two fifties.

Nevertheless, Head effectively put the issue to bed in Bloemfontein. He whacked 64 off 36 balls and was out just after the powerplay. It was almost the perfect knock for an opener in modern ODI cricket, establishing a platform for Australia to threaten the 400 mark. With Warner going on to make a century, it was a positive indicator of a firing opening partnership now weeks away from the first round of World Cup matches.


However, where their smooth plans have faltered is Labuschagne’s unexpectedly central role in their success with the bat in the series so far. In the first ODI, a concussion to Cameron Green paved the way for Labuschagne to come into an international match as a concussion replacement once again. Inevitably, he played a crucial part in the game.

At No.8, he scored an unbeaten 80 and was the decisive factor in Australia chasing down the insubstantial target of 223 South Africa had set. More importantly for Labuschagne, with Green out for eight days until his concussion clears, Labsuchagne secured his spot for the second ODI.

At Bloemfontein, he surpassed his impressive performance two days previously with a brilliant century. Having come in after Head and Warner set the platform, but after Australia had also lost two wickets in as many balls, the partnership he built with Warner both ensured stability and pushed Australia on towards the huge total (392) they had threatened in the powerplay. That innings has deeper implications than purely plugging a hole before Green’s inevitable return.

Labuschagne wasn’t selected in Australia’s preliminary World Cup squad due to his recent inconsistency in the format. Before the century against South Africa, his only ODI century came over three years ago. Since then, several sporadic fifties prolonged his place in the side with the hope of conversion permanently around the corner. But, after two starts against India earlier this year, his World Cup omission signalled the door was finally swinging shut.

Now, with his two most recent innings, the late deliverance on that promise has given Australia an unforeseen selection conundrum before the tournament. Does that short-term form amount to enough to eclipse his long-term record and justify a hastily bought World Cup plane ticket?

Should the selectors decide the answer to that question is yes, that opens up another question – who misses out?

If the balance of the squad is to stay the same, a top order batter will have to step aside, one of – Steve Smith, Head, Marsh, Warner, Glenn Maxwell, or Marcus Stoinis. With such an established lineup, it’s hard to see who he can come in for through that avenue. Marsh may have registered a golden duck at Bloemfontein, but his form in the T20 side as well as his recent Test resurgence are evidence of the role he could play in the World Cup.

However, Stoinis could be a more likely avenue for Labuschagne’s inclusion. Over the last four years, Stoinis has averaged just 17.23 with the bat in ODI cricket and hasn’t passed fifty once. While his role with the ball has greatly increased in that time, even taking the new ball over Sean Abbott in the first ODI, with Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc set to return to the squad for the World Cup, it’s hard to imagine him retaining that role.

With Green and Marsh also in the squad, a third seam-bowling top seven batter is not necessarily an essential.

Whatever Australia decide to do, Labuschagne has once again used an unfortunate injury to force himself into the reckoning. He might have left his selection bid late, but he’s posed a question Australia have two weeks to answer.

To bet on the World Cup with our Match Centre Partners bet365 head here.

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