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Ever-eager Labuschagne nails India challenge, makes it to Australia World Cup squad

There was a spring in Jasprit Bumrah’s stride. India smelled blood.

Australia’s batting artillery, which had bulldozed its way to 225 in 30 overs was finally showing signs of running out of fuel.

Alex Carey was one-upped by a Bumrah off-cutter. He flaunted his range next, firing a pellet-like yorker at Glenn Maxwell’s off stump. Cameron Green perished trying to take on Kuldeep Yadav.

The middle order’s cave in meant that 400, a destination which once appeared on radar, seemed out of reach.

Marnus Labuschagne would have been a bit agitated. He wanted in on the fun too, as was evident from the reverse sweep he pulled out on just his seventh delivery. He was eager to get on strike. On a couple of occasions, he pushed for a second run only to be sent back from half-way down the pitch by Steve Smith.

Labuschagne, Mitchell Marsh and David Warner, in this order, are Australia’s highest run-getters in 2023.

Agreed, most of Labuschagne’s 464 runs are fresh, but form alone is a good enough criteria to warrant a selection.

On Wednesday, in the third One-Day against India, Labuschagne put his point forth for a final time, which ultimately won him the case.

He took responsibility to salvage a floundering innings and secure an above-par total. India coach Rahul Dravid said that his side conceded around 30 runs too many, which made the difference in its 66-run loss. That difference was Labuschagne’s labour.

His 58-ball 72 showed that the ‘live by the sword, die by the sword’ tactics – a perfect fit in T20s – fall short in the longer version and inadvertently need an anchor. Not once did Labuschagne look like expending force. Yet, he found the fence nine times to keep the scoreboard ticking.

Marsh and Warner subscribe to a template that Australia has stuck to recently – immobilize the opponent with an all-out attack. Marcus Stoinis, Cameron Green and Alex Carey all offer the same lower down the order.

Labuschagne’s craft, on the other hand, is more nuanced. He glanced a Bumrah yorker to the square leg boundary, pulled short ones to the same region and carved anything on the off side with the equal ease.

But that became one of the reasons for his snub. He is too orthodox a player, even for ODIs. His stellar record in Tests, which could not be emulated is the shorter formats, probably worked against him too. This was not what DJ Khalid would have meant by ‘Suffering from Success’.

But with one ton and two innings-steering fifties in his recent outings, signs are imminent of Labuschagne’s limited-overs career blooming at last.

In the past series against South Africa, Labuschagne had pulled clear as the frontrunner to replace injured Ashton Agar in the final squad.

In a squad packed to the brim with utility players who can roll their arm, Labuschagne checks yet another box with his part-time leg spin. And the conditions in India could yield better dividends for spin than for pace.

Whether he fits into the first 11 is a debate for another day. Match ups and venues will have a say in whether Australia accommodates two of the same kind – in Smith and Labuschagne.

But not having the wide-ranged, ever-eager Labuschagne seems like a disaster averted for now.

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