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New Zealand v Australia 2024

One ton in 19 Tests and a trip to the batting lab: Marnus Labuschagne’s prolonged dip in form

Marnus Labuschagne walks off the field after another low score
by Wisden Staff 3 minute read

Just over a year ago Marnus Labuschagne was on top of the world.

A first innings hundred against West Indies at Adelaide meant that he had four centuries in his previous three Tests, a run that also saw him get a troublesome monkey off his back – a first overseas ton, in Galle against Sri Lanka.

At that point, Labuschagne averaged over 60 from 30 Tests. He was, by some distance, top of the ICC Test batting rankings with a rating of 937 – the joint 11th-highest rating point ever achieved, a career-high he shares with Virat Kohli. It’s a height greats such as Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers, Joe Root and Sachin Tendulkar have even failed to reach.

Australia have been busy in the intervening 15 months. They’ve played 19 Tests which included era-defining tours of India and England. Labuschagne’s returns on that run have had a more mortal feel to them – an average of 31 and one hundred in 36 innings. At the time of writing there are no obvious signs that he’s on the verge of overturning that reversal in form; the Australia No. 3 has failed to pass 10 in any of his last six knocks. His indifferent form continued in the ongoing Wellington Test where he registered scores of one (off 27 balls) and two, scores that brought his average below 50 for the first time in more than four years. In that 19-Test stretch, accounting for more than a third of Labuschagne’s career total, he averages just 31.51. His average outside of Australia has dropped from 39.63 to 32.10, and at home it has plummeted, from 73.80 to 30.45.

Labuschagne’s one three-figure score over his last 19 Tests was an important one, an Ashes-clinching hundred in the rain-affected Manchester Test. After passing fifty just three times across the tours of India and England, Labuschagne registered three scores in the sixties in six innings against Pakistan before his returns once more dropped off. Against West Indies, his scores were: 10, 1*, 3 and 5.

Before the start of Australia’s ongoing tour of New Zealand, Labuschagne revealed that he had recently visited a batting laboratory to better ascertain what is likely to work for him having gone through nine batters over the course of the tour of England last year.

“I just couldn’t get that feel right,” Labuschagne told cricket.com.au‘s Unplayable Podcast. “I batted with really light bats (during the Ashes) and I was getting really ‘feely’ for the ball, and kind of pushing at the ball a lot more than I’d done previously. I wanted to dive down and find out more about that and is there a reason that I’m making these errors now, compared to three or four years ago, where I felt like I was not.”

His dip has come at an inopportune time for Australia as well. David Warner has left the scene, and Steve Smith’s promotion to opener is yet to fully click. While Usman Khawaja has excelled in recent years, Australia can’t expect the 37-year-old to be their lynchpin for too much longer. Labuschagne, alongside Travis Head, is in what should be his prime years, and Australia would ideally be looking to him to be their bedrock in the years to come. Following New Zealand, Australia’s next scheduled Test engagement is against India at home. India have won four consecutive Test series against Australia, including their first two triumphs Down Under in Test history. With Labuschagne in poor form, India may feel there are weaknesses to be exploited again.

Labuschagne, and Australia, will hope that trip to the bat factory will fix his malfunctions before long.

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