Few players in the history of the game can rival the set of numbers that Ricky Ponting put up.
Over a 17-year career he amassed 13,378 Test runs at a tick over 51. In the years since, Australia has desperately tried to fill the void of one of the country’s most accomplished batsmen. The position, however, has been more or less a dark hole that careers disappear into.
Since Ricky Ponting moved to number four in 2011, 15 players have batted in the important number three position. You can see how each player went from the table below.
Apart from Steve Smith, who has stated that he prefers to bat at four, the numbers are underwhelming. Usman Khawaja has been given the best crack at it, but as recently as last week has found himself out of the team again.
It also should be noted that two of Khawaja’s eight Test centuries were accumulated at the top of the order, where he averages over 90.
Marnus Labuschagne is the newest in a long line of number three batsmen post Ponting. Labuschagne made his debut on the back of the Cape Town crisis. He was brought into the side during the two-match series of Pakistan.
An up-and-coming batsman whose leggies could be handy on the spinning UAE surfaces, no one really expected anything from anyone in the Australian team, let alone a rookie who averaged 35 in first class cricket. He made 0 and 13.
Labuschagne has now been around the Australian set-up for a while but ultimately took his chance at Lord’s when he became the first concussion substitute and compiled a gutsy 59 in Smith’s absence. Since that innings he has gone on to score another three half-centuries and is averaging a very tidy 58.2 for the series.
Now his Test career is still in its infant stages but the signs appear to be promising. Labuschagne has the poise and temperament to be a good number three and has a solid defence to build on. He has all the strokes, as most of the players brought up in the T20 generation do, but also appears to possess immaculate shot selection to keep everything in check.
His performances have drawn praise from several great past captains including Mark Taylor, Allan Border and Ponting himself, but it was Steve Waugh who was most notably impressed, suggesting that Labuschagne is the future of Australian cricket.
It is completely unfair to compare players who have played a handful of Tests to Australia’s most prolific run-scorer but it is inevitable.
Of course, only time will tell, but he has certainly endeared himself to a lot of fans over this Ashes series. His calmness under pressure and his ability to fight when the chips are down are Australian traits that every Aussie is happy to see back at number three.