@Ben_Wisden 4 minute read
No.9 in Wisden’s Test innings of the year list – part of the 2020 in Review series – is a career-best, whitewash-sealing knock from Australia’s Marnus Labuschagne.
Marnus Labuschagne 215 (363)
Australia v New Zealand
Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney
You know you’ve made it as a Test batsman when you can make a hundred that gets met with indifference. What’s remarkable about Marnus Labuschagne is that he reached that level during the summer in which he’d also made his maiden hundred. By the time he’d brought up his fourth hundred in five Tests, it had begun to feel routine to wake up in England, check your phone, and see three figures next to the No.3’s name.
And yet, the last of that quartet, his second ton against New Zealand and first first-class double, deserves to be remembered as more than just another in a line of indistinguishable home pummellings. Though Australia had already won the series by this point, this was far from a New Zealand attack that felt beaten, and they rallied well enough despite several notable depletions to keep every non-Labuschagne batsman to 63 or below. Given Australia’s struggles against India, it could prove vital come the World Test Championship final shake-down too.
There’s a danger of looking at the series result, in hindsight, as foregone, and yet, the Blackcaps rightly came in with hopes of an historic upset. They had earned the privilege of a Boxing Day Test, and had it not been for Labuschagne’s 143 in the first innings of the series – next highest score in the innings: 56 – New Zealand would have had a foothold. As it was, after losing two wickets in the first two overs of that reply, the game was almost over already.
Still, while that was the knock which set up the series, this was the prize innings. Having come in with the ball still newish, Labuschagne played within himself at first, accumulating runs through leg-side flicks and controlled edges until he neared a century. Only when past three figures did the expansive drives and twinkling toes come out, Labuschagne still retaining his poise regardless. He’s often marked out as an oddity of a batsman, with his quirks and mannerisms putting Steve Smith to shame. But this was a truly gorgeous knock, replete with on drives, imperious lofts, and pose-holds galore.
What might encourage Australia most, however, rather than any one stroke, is Labuschagne’s reaction upon getting out, chipping a return catch to give Todd Astle his first wicket. He seemed far from satisfied with contributing 215 out of 377 runs scored while he was at the crease; he slumped over his bat before wrenching himself from the crease.
It was easy to suspect Labuschagne would be the type of batsman with a tendency to go big. The uber-badger, scoring runs seemed less a hobby and more his life’s purpose, and yet for all his Ashes application, only three fifties had come in three and a half Tests in England, while he had got out within sight of a truly huge score in each of the first three Tests of the Australian season.
He explained at stumps on day two how a message from Glamorgan coach Matthew Maynard had encouraged him to refocus even when past a hundred.
“He has sent me a few messages when I threw away a couple of my opportunities to get a double,” he said. “One day he said ‘there’s only five times in your life that you can make a triple and you threw it away today, well done’. I was like, ‘that’s a bit stiff’, but he’s been great. Even those small things, as a player sometimes you don’t realise that in the moment. Especially on a high score you are playing with a bit more freedom instead of realising the opportunity you do have.”
Non-Australians beware. Labuschagne’s next hundred could be a monster.