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Cricket news - World-class Labuschagne revels in his bubble
Marnus Labuschagne scored his third century of the Australian summer
"Come on mate, that sounded so woody. Just accept it. You got wood on that." David Warner actually interrupted his net session to get involved with the debate over whether Marnus Labuschagne in the adjacent net had got an outside-edge to a throwdown from Graeme Hick. He wasn't the only one. Travis Head, still waiting his turn to get in, was vociferous too in his claim that Australia's Test No.3 had indeed got some bat on it on the eve of the first Test. But Labuschagne wasn't budging and remained obstinate that he'd missed the ball by a significant margin and that his teammates were just picking on him. Even the usually reticent Hick's verdict against him on the matter was negated with a stoic, "no way mate".
While Warner resumed his session, Labuschagne spent a moment rechecking his guard before remarking it. He was ready again. And for the next 45 minutes or so, not a single delivery went past Labuschagne's bat, unless he intended it to. Hick tested him with different lengths and angles, but the right-hander and his bat were more than adept to contend with them. And once he had forced at least close to half-a-dozen length balls to either side of the pitch - with the middle of his bat each time - Labuschagne was done. He thanked Hick and walked off. It was by far the shortest of all his batting nets all summer, perhaps since the Ashes. He'd achieved what he sought.
There was no appeal for caught-behind or anyone alleging that he'd got an edge at any point during his stay at the crease at the Perth Stadium on Thursday (December 12). The New Zealand bowlers hardly even came close to bothering Labuschagne. They simply weren't allowed to or even given a chance. For the third time this Australian summer, Labuschagne strode out chewing his gum and blowing his bubbles with an intent to score a Test ton. And he did just that. By the time he walked off, he had not just reached an unbeaten 108, he'd also entered the record books and was now being spoken of - much like his idol Steve Smith - in the same breath as Don Bradman.
Save a couple of untoward swipes at deliveries he didn't have to play at soon after going past 50, the only misstep Labuschagne took all day was when he expected Smith to walk over towards him for a fist-bump when their partnership went past the half-century mark and the senior batsman didn't seem keen to do so. For the rest of his knock, he always seemed in-step with whatever the Kiwis threw at him when he wasn't a step ahead of them. Unlike with the two centuries he scored against the Pakistanis earlier in the summer, here the 25-year-old did have a few more minor challenges to overcome. And he did so with great skill, putting on a masterclass of problem-solving that would have made even his role model at the other end rather proud. The fact that he did so with little or no fuss was not only the reason for his third Test ton being his best so far, but also a sign of why we might well be witnessing the emergence of a truly world-class Test No.3.
The first set of questions posed to him came courtesy the tireless Neil Wagner. They were a set of a deliveries angled away from him from the left-armer's angle, inviting Labuschagne to indulge in a feel for the ball. But he showed no interest, shouldering arms in that exaggerated fashion. He waited instead for Wagner to try and "make the play", and when he did by pitching it full and closer to the batsman, Labuschagne drove him straight down the ground for a boundary.
Tim Southee was next, and unlike Wagner he was getting the pink-ball to deviate in the air slightly, and once more Labuschagne was intent more on seeing them off quietly rather than wanting to make any sort of statement. Every time the Kiwis looked to force the issue though, without fail he managed to make them pay with a boundary. The Kiwi plan was to play on his patience. Bowl it wide, have two gullies in and get him caught playing the square drive. Only that Labuschagne wasn't keen on being party to it.
That pretty much was the theme of his knock and the story of the day for the New Zealand bowlers as Wagner would sum up later in the day - lauding Labuschagne in particular for showing the temperament to wait for the bowlers to alter their plan and staying steadfast to his own. It showed in the way his innings progressed too with significant periods of non-action in the early half - 83 dot balls and 8 boundaries when he reached his 50.
It was sound strategy too on a blazingly hot day, which took its toll on all the bowlers except Wagner. For, when they tired, they started getting more desperate for wickets, and it meant even more opportunities for Labuschagne to score. But here too, the rapidly improving batsman was content with only wanting to go after those which he realized he could make the most of without any risk. In fact, at one point he managed to show the extent of his burgeoning problem-solving by playing a late cut off a back of length Wagner delivery, which he'd till that point avoided being positive with. Even though the shot looked pretty and fetched him four runs, it didn't seem to please Labuschagne, as if he felt he could still done without putting his bat in harm's way.
There were also minor adjustments made for specific bowlers, like standing more leg-side-ish for Southee's incoming angle - which stood out especially the couple of times he played delectable flicks through mid-wicket - or standing quite some distance outside his crease to negate the medium-paced swing of Colin de Grandhomme. There was also the couple of times he chose to back away from Wagner's short-pitched deliveries, when the left-armer had a field set for the delivery. And then came the excellent use of his feet in launching Mitchell Santner over long-on to bring up his ton.
Then came the tricky period under lights as the new pink ball began showing signs of life for the bowlers. And Labuschagne reverted to playing the percentage game, sitting back and ensuring that he was back out chewing his gum when conditions will be more in his favour and the bowling attack sans a frontline seamer further fatigued by the harsh climes of Perth.
"It started it in the second game of the County Championship last year. It was something I used because at times you play so much cricket and you need something to get you going and to get you in the contest. It's helped me to relax especially when I'm subconsciously blowing bubbles and keeping my mind at rest between balls," he'd say to explain his now trademark bubble-blowing.
And it seems to be working too. For Labuschagne's mind does seem to be at rest these days, not just between balls but also when he's facing them, while seemingly subconsciously being able to deal with every challenge that's thrown at him even as the bubble of indomitability around his batting continues to grow bigger and bigger.
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