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Opinion

Marnus Labuschagne can’t be used to paper over the Heat’s glaring cracks

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Expert
21st January, 2020
18
4675 Reads

The summer of Marnus moves to its next phase on Thursday night, and having traded the whites for Aussie gold already, he’ll now switch again into the teal of the Brisbane Heat as they attempt to resurrect their Big Bash League finals tilt.

Labuschagne and the Heat will be facing off with the Sydney Sixers at the Gabba in Brisbane, with the Sixers also set to welcome back Josh Hazlewood and Marnus’ big brother, Steve Smith.

The inclusion of some middle-order starch can’t come quick enough for Brisbane, who – you might recall I discovered a few weeks ago – had been tracking a lot better than their scorecard was showing.

In the last few weeks though, they’ve fallen in a massive heap.

Brisbane have always been a one-speed team with bat in hand. Their whole identity over the years has been built around the ‘Bash Brothers’ – the top order pairing of Chris Lynn and former New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum.

Brendon McCullum. On fire. And flames

Brendon McCullum feeling the Heat (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

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Sometimes they fired and were damn near unbeatable. Of the 23 totals of 200 or more over the nine seasons of the BBL, the Heat posted seven of them. All came batting first.

But their problem has always been around when they didn’t fire with the bat, and that’s continued to be their issue this season, their first without McCullum.

Their batting this year has been very Brisbane: at times brilliant, other times terrible.

In their 11 games, they’ve been bowled out four times, and on two other occasions they’ve lost eight wickets. Their top order hasn’t gone the distance more often than it has.

The common denominator has been collapses, highlighted by their losing 10-36 on Sunday night against the Renegades, officially the worst ten-wicket collapse in BBL history. But that was just the most recent one.

In the first game of the season, against the Thunder in Sydney, the Heat lost their last 5-30 to be bowled out for 143, chasing the Thunder’s 172.

A few days later, they lost 3-30 in the top order and 4-21 down lower to finish 8-145 chasing 168 to win against the Melbourne Stars on the Gold Coast.

On New Year’s Day, Brisbane lost their first 7-51 to be rolled for 109, in reply to Perth’s 149, again on the Gold Coast.

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Last Friday, they lost their last 7-47 to be all out 100 batting first in Adelaide. On Sunday, it was their last 10-36 after losing their first wicket at 84, on the way to being all out 120.

Sam Heazlett and Lynn had been superb in the powerplay, only for Lynn to fall off the last ball of the sixth over. It was the start of the rot, and though McCullum did his best to excuse Lynn from the criticism in commentary alongside on the Seven Network, Ricky Ponting argued Lynn had to find a way of pacing his innings once he was in early and scoring freely.

Instead, Lynn’s departure for 41 from just 15 balls in the powerplay started the rot, and led to what Ponting described as “one of the all-time great chokes”.

At least Lynn didn’t mince his words, calling the performance “piss poor”.

“We got off to a flyer. These guys that are playing, they’re not first, they’re not second-gamers, they’re four, five years into the tournament,” he said post-match, standing out on the Gabba surface with Ponting and McCullum.

“We’re doing all the right things at training, but I don’t know what goes on out in the middle because we just seem to panic.

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“And then it’s not just a wicket or two, it’s a train wreck.”

Chris Lynn of the Heat bats.

Chris Lynn (Photo: Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

He’s not wrong, and if the Heat are serious, they’ll completely overhaul their batting plans for next season.

Too many of their underperforming bats have come from the Bulls’ squad, surviving on potential rather than results. Yet strangely, someone like South Australia’s Alex Ross was let go by the Heat, and has this summer provided regular reminders from the Thunder middle order of what they’ve lost.

But nor can the expectation be that South African supremo AB de Villiers and now Labuschagne will now just fix all problems. If de Villiers and Labuschagne fire the Heat deep into the finals, the issue will still need addressing. Particularly given de Villiers won’t be around forever and Labuschagne will be a sporadic participant at best in the years to come.

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Yet with all this said, I’m still not game to put the line through the Heat for BBL|09. For all their issues, and for all their inability to halt the train before it plummets off the cliff, they remain a dangerous side.

The summer of Marnus isn’t a panacea for Brisbane’s deep-rooted problems.

The Heat urgently need to find other gears. They can’t just be on or off.