Ravi Shastri has signalled his intention to stand down as India head coach after the Twenty20 World Cup, and has rejected suggestions his book launch was the catalyst for the fifth Test against England being called off.
Of all the left field selections in recent times in the various Australian cricket teams, that of Marnus Labuschagne in the Test team in the recent Pakistan series is one of the most curious.
By leaving out Matt Renshaw again based on ‘lack of time in the middle’, the selectors chose a youngster who had a growing yet not outstanding reputation and record, seemingly purely for the fact that he was a good field and could bowl some handy leg spin.
The big question the selectors now face is what do they do with him now? Especially since he has shown signs that he could be a player Australia has been searching for if he is given the time and space to develop.
I don’t think I was alone in being nonplussed when Labuschagne was selected instead of Renshaw in that 1st Test, but he has slowly won me over. Good short legs are in short supply (no pun intended) and he even appears enthusiastic about the task.
He has already nabbed a couple of good catches there which is a helpful task. His leg spin, which looks to be a tad better than part-time but no more, has already snared seven Test wickets, and as a partnership breaker he could prove to be the perfect foil for Nathan Lyon.
And although he made a nervous start with the bat in his first Test, he appeared calm under pressure in both innings of the second Test and probably should have made more runs in both innings.
Number six should be able to alternate between solidity and someone who will look to take the game on when it needs to, and Labuschagne looks like that’s the way he likes to bat. He played Yasir Shah with confidence, which not many not many do.
It hasn’t all been roses for Marnus, and perhaps that is what makes him so appealing. The dropped catch off Fakhar Zaman in the first innings of the second Test, when he was only on 30 and went on to make made 96 not only went some way towards costing Australia the game, but it killed off any confidence Jon Holland may have had and it did appear to hamper him from that point on.
Also, his run out in bizarre circumstances in the first innings was supremely disappointing after he had made such a solid start to his innings and was only saved by a more idiotic run out by Pakistan in the following innings from being a more major talking point after the game.
There have been flaws, but he hasn’t let it affect him after the event which is a good sign, and at just 24 years old, he has got a foot in the door and doesn’t appear overawed at what he is facing.
Labuschagne is probably fighting for one place in the team with current vice-captain Mitch Marsh. There is no reason why Marsh should have the inside lane to the number six spot in the order simply because he bowls seam up.
The Test team only needs someone who can provide a few overs to give the four specialists a rest on tough days. That bowler certainly doesn’t have to be a medium pacer. Surely someone with a bit of variety would be more than handy than just another right arm seamer coming on that the batsmen have already seen.
A wrist spinner provides so much more and is a perfect complement to a left arm speed bowler, two right arm pace bowlers and a right arm off spinner.
More than anything else, Labuschagne has to make runs. Australia has spent too long picking a player in our top six who has averaged less than 30 with the bat, only because they can bowl some overs when needed.
First it was Shane Watson, who for the second half of his career was persisted with despite averaging only 30.50 in his last 33 Tests between 2011 and 2015, and now it is Mitch Marsh who has received that benefit on potential, who currently has a Test batting average of just 26.08 after 30 Test matches.
That’s over 60 Tests where the “all-rounder” averaged a touch under 27 with the bat. You can’t win Test matches with stats like that.
If Labuschagne is to demand selection and hold his place in the team, he needs to average 40 in Tests as a minimum.
If he can do this, then his other assets will prove to be extremely useful for the Australian cricket team. But without that kind of output with the bat his other assets cannot – or at least should not – sustain his place in the team.
In today’s Sheffield Shield match against South Australia, he was dismissed for just 3 batting at first drop for Queensland. Not an ideal score in which to push his cause. But he has several matches ahead of him to do so, and he will know just how important it is for him to make good runs and at least one big score to try and shore up his place in the Test team for the upcoming series against India.
I, for one, hope he succeeds.