For Marnus Labuschagne, the world’s No.1 Test batter, the real challenge starts now
Within the first ten days of Australia’s most recent home Test summer, Marnus Labuschagne had scored 471 runs.
A double hundred, a 150 and a century made up his first three innings against the West Indies. Across the entirety of Australia’s 2022/23 Test match season, Labuschagne averaged over a hundred (101.83), finishing with a fifty against South Africa. It was the second time he scored three consecutive centuries at home, having previously done so against Pakistan and New Zealand in 2019.
Since his debut in 2018, Labuschagne has the highest home Test average of any Australian (70.50) with 200 Test runs. He also has nine home centuries in that timeframe, four more than the next most prolific hundred maker, Travis Head. Currently, the only Australia Test player with more home centuries and a higher home average than Labuschagne is Don Bradman.
With numbers like these, Labuschagne, now 28 could be on to finish his career ranked among the greats and the goods of Australian cricket. Only three Australia players can claim a higher overall batting average than his 59.43 before turning thirty. His numbers are extraordinary, but they come with a caveat.
The timing of the start of Labuschagne’s career coincided with, among other factors, the COVID-19 pandemic and Australia’s response to it. As a result, of his 33 Test matches, two-thirds have been at home. With the opportunities Australian pitches and the Kookaburra ball bring, his career to date has to be viewed with that in mind.
Away from home, Labuschagne’s numbers are not far off the mark. He averages 39.63 from 11 matches, with one hundred and three fifties. Of his teammates, only Steve Smith and Usman Khawaja have scored more runs at a higher average away from home in that timeframe. He is also one of only four Australia players to score centuries, and only Smith has scored more fifties.
In this context, while Labuschagne can be said to have passed the test of being able to score runs away from home, a passable record in foreign conditions is what prevents him from finding a place in the pantheon of greats.
His only century outside Australia came last year, in Sri Lanka. Albeit on a flat day for batting, it made Labuschagne the seventh Australia player to score a Test century in Asia in the last ten years. Only Smith, Khawaja and David Warner have scored more than one hundred in the continent in that timeframe.
During the 2019 Ashes, Labuschagne he became the first concussion substitute in the history of Test cricket after Jofra Archer’s bouncer ruled him out of the Test match. It was another glimpse of his potential overseas. With few able to replicate Smith’s consistency, Labuschagne more than stepped up to the plate, with a fifty in each of his first four innings, finishing the series as Australia’s second-highest run scorer, with Smith the only other Australia player to average more than fifty.
The ninety in Rawalpindi – albeit on a flat pitch – last year again showed that Labuschagne more than has the ability to score runs on foreign soil. But compared to what England’s batters managed in similar conditions, and that only 14 wickets fell during that Test match, it could be viewed as a missed opportunity. He more than has the ability to kick on away from home and claim his position alongside Smith and the rest as Australian Test batting royalty. If he is to do so, this year would be the ideal time.
The Border-Gavaskar trophy starts in India this week, and Australia have not had a better opportunity to win the trophy in India since their last series win there in 2004/05. Ranked the No.1 Test team in the world, with a string of in-form batters, they are pitted against an Indian side that lacks several key players, and some of whose veterans are short of Test match form. It is a rare opportunity for any side to beat India away from home.
Following on from that, Australia will also have an opportunity to be crowned World Test Champions at The Oval in June before embarking on another attempt to win an Ashes series in England. In terms of Australian cricket, this year could see their current side remembered as one of their best. Labuschagne may hold the key if he can complete the next step in his ascendancy as one of Australia’s finest.