If Marnus Labuschagne‘s conscious mind will be grappling with the likes of Peter Siddle, Riley Meredith and Jackson Bird in the opening Sheffield Shield round from Saturday in Adelaide, his deeper thoughts have already turned to how India’s pacemen will seek to end the golden run he has enjoyed in Test matches since last year’s Ashes series.
While Labuschagne has played one Test against India, batting No. 3 at the SCG in January 2019, that match arrived before his blooming as an international batman after taking full advantage of the county cricket finishing school with Glamorgan later that year. Since then, Labuschagne has cracked 1249 runs in nine Tests at 83.26, with four centuries, to sit third on the ICC rankings.
Those performances have not only seen Labuschagne elbow his way into Australia’s ODI team, meaning he travelled to England for the brief recent limited-overs tour, but also placed an outsized target on his back for bowlers across Australia and around the world. Shield jousting, with four matches to be played, will give Labuschagne the chance to get into the sort of groove he occupied before memorably entering the Ashes as a concussion substitute for Steven Smith at Lord’s and never looking back.
“For me personally it’s about getting better and coming up with really trying to think about how they’re going to attack me, what they will do to try to get me out and how I will counter that. If I keep trying to do the same thing, I think fundamentally the same thing is going to work, but you want to make sure there’s going to be new ideas and new plans,” Labuschagne said. “If that’s the short ball or if that’s having a few more catchers on the leg side or hanging it wider on the off side, whatever their plans are going to be.
“I think it’s important as a cricketer that you’re one step ahead and you’re trying to understand what they’re going to do and how they’re going to attack you. I love the contest – I want to score runs and they want to get me out. [Shield sides] are going to come up with plans, they’ve played against me for the last four years and they understand how I play, so they’re going to come prepared and I think that’s the exciting part, you have to be one step ahead and be really clear on how you want to play the game.”
A hyperactive character at the best of times, Labuschagne’s hotel room confinement in England and then Adelaide upon the squad’s return has seen him wake up early to watch plenty of IPL fixtures, as he began to think about the prospect of dealing with Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami, to name two.
“I think you’re subconsciously thinking about it, thinking about how their bowlers bowl, especially now you’re locked in and you watch a bit of the IPL in the morning and you look at how their bowlers are bowling,” Labuschagne said. “It kind of makes you think about what they’ll do, how Bumrah will bowl, what Shami will do, what those guys will do. Maybe it’s more of a subconscious thing, so you’re not necessarily thinking about it directly, but it’s turning over in the background, what you might do, what plans they might have for you.
There had been concerns that the Shield would be drastically cut back or even shelved amid the difficulties created by Covid-19, but Cricket Australia’s staging of the early rounds of the season in Adelaide, at venues including Glenelg Oval and Karen Rolton Oval, will be highly valuable for the likes of Labuschagne and also the Test captain Tim Paine, who will lead Tasmania against the Bulls from Saturday. It’s a contrast to the lead-up for players taking part in the IPL, who will likely get just one red-ball game in Australia before the Tests begin.
“I’m a big fan of the four games in a row,” Labuschagne said. “I think that’s really helpful for that momentum and rhythm with your batting. You actually get to play game time continuously. That really helps and aids that development and that ability to keep scoring runs. Hopefully that can propel you into a really good Test summer. You’ve just got to take it a game at a time. You can’t get too distracted and too ahead of yourself and trying to build momentum.
“I definitely think it’s slightly harder [coming back from the IPL] but we’re so used to it nowadays being able to change format to format. It might take them a couple of training sessions to get the feel of it, but I think it will turn over pretty quick and guys will get into the rhythm of things very quickly. That’s the nature of games these days. The schedule is so cramped, there’s so much cricket on you have to be able to shift from white ball to red ball and red ball to white ball simultaneously.”
As for tackling the fishbowl existence of biosecure hubs at home and away, Labuschagne admitted some days were easier than others. “Any day I get out and get to go train is a good day. Hit balls, catch some balls in slips or have a bowl, I think they’re the really enjoyable days for me,” he said. “I think some of the tougher days are when we weren’t allowed out for the whole day, they were tough, you’re in your room and doing different things but you can’t get out and about and move around.
“There was no fresh air or outside so you almost got a bit claustrophobic sometimes. But all in all we were very lucky with our quarantine in Adelaide, they were very good to us, and we were lucky enough to keep training and doing gym and running and those sorts of things. I’ve tried to listen to a fair few podcasts. I’ve been listening to a few of Joe Rogan’s podcasts, must try to keep yourself occupied to be able to learn. That’s what I tried to do in isolation and a bit of gym. I’ve got a heap of gym equipment that I travelled with so I’m doing a bit of gym in my room and things like that.”