Marnus Labuschagne’s extraordinary start to England’s domestic T20 tournament has the Test star staking a claim to make Australia’s T20 World Cup squad as an all-rounder.
Cricket is an amazing game. After one Test it seemed certain that these Ashes would be the Summer of Steve. With just a few hours of the second Test remaining, Jofra Archer was set to be anointed 2019’s Supreme Being.
Who would’ve thought that in the twinkling of an eye, everything would change, and it would become clear that this series is all about one man and one man only: Marnus Labuschagne?
Ordinarily, a score of 59 is not enough to declare someone a living legend. But these are not ordinary times we live in. For as soon as Labuschagne walked out to bat, he had done something no other cricketer has done in 142 years of Test cricket: replaced another player in the XI midway through a Test.
Two balls into his stay, it seemed he was taking his brief too literally, having been hit square in the face and raising the possibility that he too would have to be subbed out. Possibly the concussions would continue to pile up until Justin Langer strapped the pads on.
But no, Marnus was fine. In the grand tradition of Derek Randall, he sprung to his feet and kept going. And going. In a side he wasn’t good enough to make, he was the best of all. He faced down the ferocity of the fearsome Archer, and the wiles of the suddenly surprisingly threatening Jack Leach, and whatever it was being offered by whoever else was bowling, and he saw the baggy greens to safety.
Sure, he eventually got out, due to the ICC’s controversial new “two hands, one bounce” rule: but the job was substantially done by that time.
As unexpected developments in Test cricket go, this was right up there with Don Bradman’s final duck and the shocking truncation of the burgeoning career of Rob Quiney.
Ask the average Aussie cricket fan “who would you pick to bat to save a Test match on the last day against a hostile attack in challenging conditions?” and I’m not saying Labuschagne’s name would never come up: I’m just saying it’d only come up several minutes after Nathan Lyon’s.
But surely any doubts over the plucky ex-South African with the name of a medieval baronet are now dispelled. If he can score 59 in those conditions, against that attack, in that match situation, having only been drafted into the team that morning, then he can do anything.
Labuschagne will replace Smith at Headingley him, but even had the former skipper been passed fit, surely the events of Lord’s prove he should be a regular in the team. Whether it’s to replace the woefully out-of-form Warner, or the slightly-less-woefully-but-still-pretty-woefully out-of-form Bancroft, or the just-normally-out-of-form Khawaja, such a knock as Marnus put together in London demands inclusion long-term.
He could even replace Matthew Wade, first Test hundred notwithstanding, on the twin bases that 59 at Lord’s was better than 110 at Edgbaston and that a part-time leg-spinner is more valuable than a no-time wicketkeeper.
But whatever has to be done to accommodate the irresistible case for Labuschagne, let’s take the time, in this breakneck modern schedule, to appreciate just what he achieved this week.
Faced with one of the most difficult assignments ever to be assigned, he passed with flying colours, and if he didn’t enter any record books on a numerical basis, he undoubtedly passed into legend with the skill, application and sheer grit he showed, in an innings that the man he replaced would’ve been proud to call his own.
It seems certain that the Ashes have been turned on their head. It seems certain that this will be remembered as the Summer of 59.