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'They can try': Marnus on England's chances of Gabba heist, renewing bromance with Smith and vice-captaincy snub

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3rd December, 2021
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Having vied with Steve Smith for the title of Australia’s best bat since his whirlwind 2019 Ashes series heroics, Marnus Labuschagne was an option for many to take on the vice-captaincy role in the Test team following Pat Cummins’ elevation to the captaincy.

However, the Queenslander has taken the snub in his stride, telling reporters at his local club Redlands that Cummins and Smith are “the right people for the job right now”.

Labuschagne also opened up on the renewing of his famous ‘bromance’ with fellow batting star Smith, and had a blunt message for England’s chances of repeating India’s storming of the Gabba from earlier this year.

Here is everything Marnus Labuschagne said in his press conference on Friday afternoon.

On the team’s Ashes preparations

Wild weather has made the lead-in to the Ashes frustrating for Australia and England alike, especially for the Australians who, unlike Labuschagne, were on tour at the T20 World Cup instead of appearing in the Sheffield Shield and Marsh Cup.

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However, with the sun shining at Redlands, Labuschagne was confident the team would be making up for lost time with a Friday training session.

“This is probably our first real-hit out with most of the squad here,” he said.

“It’s been a bit wet for the last couple of weeks. It’s nice to get out here at my home club and have a hit.”

Labuschagne was also quick to downplay fears that the T20 World Cup-winning players, including stars Smith and David Warner, have been unable to prepare to their usual high standards while in a hub on the Gold Coast awaiting the first Test.

“The guys that were in the bubble of the Gold Coast prepared really well. They had a few centre-wickets [sessions] there, and I know everyone’s feeling ready to go,” Labuschagne said.

“Everyone’s been preparing well wherever they’ve been. It’s time for us to gel, get the banter back in the squad and get the band going again.”

Marnus Labuschagne

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

On his first Ashes series at home

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The first Test means more to Labuschagne than most; not only is it his first home Ashes series, but it begins as always at his home ground of the Gabba.

But while he’s yet to be a member of the XI for an Ashes Test down under, he has had a far closer experience with the occasion than most. Labuschagne timed a stint working for Channel Nine as hot-spot operator perfectly; he was there for Peter Siddle’s famous Ashes hat-trick in the ill-fated 2010-11 series.

It feels like a long time ago, but then every year we replay that hat-trick about 100 times on Sidds’ birthday,” Labuschagne said.

“It brings back pretty fond memories of being in the crowd, fist-pumping, and just being in disbelief that that LBW from Stuart Broad was given out.

“I’ll never forget the eruption of the stadium when I was there that day.”

However, while the thrill of being present for an iconic cricket moment is one thing, Labuschagne believes actually being part of the team this time around will be a level above.

“It is really exciting to be playing my first Ashes at home,” he said.

“I’m really looking forward to the challenge; being at home and starting at the Gabba, where we as Australia really love to start our series.”

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However, the Aussies’ one-time fortress took some heavy artillery earlier this year, when India produced a stunning, series-clinching win at the so-called ‘Gabbatoir’. The Indians’ bowling strategy of generating uneven bounce to trap unwary batters LBW, and generate noticeable reverse swing, was front and centre in their triumph… but Labuschagne has a message for any England bowlers thinking of repeating the dose.

“They certainly can try,” Labuschagne said of whether the English seamers should try and take a leaf out of the Indian playbook from January.

“India are very used to bowling those plans, that comes second nature to them. Bowling straight on lower bouncing wickets, up and down where it’s reversing; for them to use that sort of ploy wasn’t that unfamiliar.

“In England, traditionally, they’re bowling a little bit wider. I can’t tell you what they’re going to bring, but I can just prepare for everything that might be thrown at me.”

Marnus Labuschagne

Marnus Labuschagne is a rock in Australia’s middle order. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

While the pressure of the Ashes cauldron is old hat for Labuschagne after his 2019 efforts, he will have to face the great Jimmy Anderson for the first time in Test cricket.

The veteran quick suffered a calf injury in the opening overs of the first Test – before Labuschagne entered the fray as a concussion sub for Smith at Lord’s – so the pair’s first encounter at the Gabba looms as crucial in determining the fate of the series.

“I really can’t wait for that challenge to face Jimmy,” Labuschagne said.

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“I’ve spoken about his quality as a player a lot; you don’t take that many wickets and be England’s best ever without being quality.

“It’s going to be a really exciting challenge for the Ashes.”

On re-forging friendship with Steve Smith

Labuschagne’s admiration of, and affection for, Smith is well-known: the elder man took the Queenslander under his wing during the 2019 Ashes series, and Labuschagne’s Smith-esque mannerisms at the crease have earned him the nickname, ‘SOS’; or, ‘Stranger than Smudge’.

“It’s been nice to catch up with him again, and reunite,” Labuschagne said.

“The last time I saw him was in the last Test at the Gabba! It’s a long time, and I personally can’t wait to see him get back in the Ashes.

“We have been attached at the hip for the last few days,” Labuschagne laughed, presumably exaggerating – though with these two, one can never be absolutely sure.

“It’s been really nice to see him, and not just him, but everyone. You miss the camaraderie and the banter, and that’s why I think it’s important in the next few days, everyone just gets back and we get that bit of bonding together as a group.”

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Not even Labuschagne’s wicket will be prized more by England’s bowlers than that of Smith this summer – the maestro’s tormenting of England has become legendary over the years. He averages 65.11 in 27 Tests against the old enemy: that jumps to an otherworldly 121.75 across his last two series.

“There’s something about an Ashes that really brings out the best in him,” Labuschagne said of his close friend and top-order partner.

“I think I saw his stats yesterday pop up on my Instagram- he averages over 100 or something in the last 3 series. I can’t say what they’re [England’s bowlers] going to come up with, but I’m sure they’re going to throw the kitchen sink and try and come up with different way to dismiss our batters.

“For us, it’s all about preparation, and making sure we’re ready for whatever’s thrown at us.”

On his role in the DRS

Cummins’ appointment to the captaincy after Tim Paine’s resignation is expected to force a major rejig in Australia’s DRS consulting system.

As a senior player, and regular member of the slips cordon and close-in field, Labuschagne would be expected to take a leading role alongside Smith… but he was unequivocal when asked about his suitability for the job.

“I don’t think it’s a good thing if I play a role in the DRS,” he said.

“If I’m bowling I always think it’s out, and if I’m batting I never think it’s out – two not-so-good things for DRS.”

Labuschagne has nominated Paine’s successor as wicketkeeper, Alex Carey, to be front and centre alongside Smith in any DRS debates that arise; but regardless of who does it, the Australian number three is adamant that it needs to be done by someone.

“I’m sure that Alex is going to have a key role behind the stumps with the DRS,” he said.

“We haven’t spoken as a group but having your captain not in the slips and probably at long on or long off, might make a difference and make sure we have to communicate slightly better.

“Instead of getting the information to the keeper, everyone’s got to get the information to Patty.”

Labuschagne did offer one area where he believes he could be of help, though even that was self-deprecating.

“The only thing I’m good for is the noises, the ears are quite big so I pick up some faint noises!” he joked.

“But that’s about the only benefit I was able to give Painey usually.”

On missing out on the vice-captaincy
Given Smith’s well-known history of leadership failure, many did – and still do – consider Labuschagne a long-term option for the Test vice-captaincy, and perhaps even higher honours.

In the here and now, though, the man himself is comfortably being overlooked for the role.

“No, I wasn’t disappointed,” Labuschagne said of missing out on the vice-captaincy.

“There’s two very good leaders and very good candidates [in Cummins and Smith], and I think they’re the right people for the job right now.

“My job right now is to concentrate on scoring runs consistently for Australia, and I’m happy for that to be my role for now. Both those guys are going to work together really well.”

Labuschagne was also full of praise for Cummins, allaying any doubts over the fast bowler’s ability to manage the rigours of captaincy and those of taking ten wickets.

“He’s a tremendous person and I think his knowledge of the game is very good,” he said of Cummins.

“It’s going to be a change for him, having to be the skipper and lead the show out there. He’s going to do a fabulous job, and he’s got plenty of support with Steve as his vice-captain, and the senior players around the group.”

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Labuschagne made no secret of his desire to use his standing in the team to offer the pair plenty of leadership support, noting that ‘you don’t need the title to still be a leader’.

“Captaincy and vice-captaincy are something that you don’t search for, it’s something that comes to you,” he said.

“If it does come down the track, I’ll be thankful, and if it doesn’t, I’ll also be happy because I’ll just hopefully be scoring runs for Australia.”

>> Check out the full Ashes fixture

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