Marnus Labuschagne shows courage in his new role

For some time during the second ODI in Rajkot, it felt like the Australian Test summer was being played in India in coloured clothing. Steven Smith was facing a short-ball barrage from a fast bowler with a leg gully, Smith and Marnus Labuschagne were looking good together, and David Warner was dismissed by a brilliant catch from Manish Pandey, reminding one of Tim Southee’s leap at the MCG last month.

The format was different and the result was not in Australia’s favour but the common theme was Smith and Labuschagne extending their scoring streak into India after not getting the chance to bat in the series opener. Australia have seen Smith score nearly 4000 runs in ODIs, and in a 36-run loss on Friday, they saw Labuschagne’s effectiveness in 50 overs too.

Labuschagne has had a prolific summer with four centuries and three half-centuries in only five Tests, and averaging over 60 in the domestic 50-over competition that earned him a call-up for the three ODIs in India. He made his debut in the first ODI in Mumbai but only got the chance to bat in the second, impressing with 46 off 47 balls to keep Australia in the chase with Smith until the 31st over.

“I thought Marnus played really well in his first bat in one-day International cricket,” Smith said. “He was really busy, we were going at a reasonable rate, we were going at around six an over there for a while, we were just busy and playing good cricket shots.”

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Smith and Labuschagne added 96 in 94 balls for the third wicket – the best partnership of the chase – after having scored 378 runs together at an average of 94.50 during the Test summer back home. On Friday, Labuschagne showed deft strokeplay in Indians conditions, especially against the spinners by taking on the deceptive Kuldeep Yadav in a stiff chase. It was a wrong’un from Yadav that eventually got Smith but Labuschagne struck him for impressive boundaries, highlighted by a spectacular inside-out drive that oozed with confidence. Labuschagne scored a brisk 32 runs off the 29 balls he faced against the spinners.

“The way Marnus played in his first game, to have the courage to hit one over mid-off off Kuldeep really early on, that just shows he’s got something about him,” Smith said. “We know he’s in terrific form, he’s been batting beautifully, but transferring that into one-day cricket now is another thing.

“I thought he looked exceptionally good tonight. He hit the gaps hard, ran hard between the wickets and played some nice shots. The one over cover off Jadeja was a beautiful shot and he looked right at home. No reason why No. 3, 4, 5 can’t stay as is, I think.”

Smith and Labuschagne were the only Australia batsmen to hit the nets behind the stadium in Rajkot well before the game began on Friday, with Labuschagne toiling against two wristspinners, one right-handed and the other left-handed.

Much before the two came together in the match, Smith faced a short-ball barrage from Mohammed Shami as soon as he came out to bat, including a body blow and a big lbw shout in the sixth over, with Rohit Sharma waiting at leg gully for a catch.

“It was a pretty clear plan, what they were trying to do,” Smith said. “I had to think about that and think how I wanted to play. I got a few away but I probably didn’t feel great the first 20 balls I was at the crease, and then I started to find a bit of rhythm and feel a bit better. Hopefully some time in the middle today helped and I can make some more runs in Bangalore.”

Smith did get more confident with his strokes later on, by targeting Navdeep Saini for three consecutive fours in the 10th over to race away from 3 off 16 balls. He then chaperoned the stand with Labuschagne and looked set for a century but fell just two short.

“It was nice to score a few runs, I would’ve liked to have batted a bit longer and been there in the happy hour but unfortunately, tried to cut one that stopped in the wicket a little bit and dragged it on,” he said. “It was unfortunate at the time, it was a pretty bad time, we had lost Kez [Alex Carey] in the same over. Unfortunate but these things happen sometimes, learn from it, move on.

“I think the area where we lost it was losing the three wickets in between 30 and 40 overs and not having someone there that could start to launch, had we lost maybe one wicket in that 30 to 40 overs and had seven wickets in hand. We saw some guys doing some damage at the end, Kane [Richardson] got 24 off 11 balls. If we had an in batter and someone that had been out there for a while, perhaps things may have been different but that was probably where we lost it. I thought we timed the run reasonably well but I thought just losing those three wickets in that 30 to 40 overs put a big dent in the run chase.”

Australia still came close and with the series decider on Sunday, they will hope the result resembles what they’ve been seeing back home this summer – a trophy in their hands.