January 7, 2020 / 1:57 AM / 19 days ago

Cricket: 'Mind-blowing' Marnus a byproduct of Australia's dark days

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Many Australians might still struggle to pronounce his surname but they certainly know who Marnus Labuschagne is after the 25-year-old smashed 896 runs in five tests against Pakistan and New Zealand over the home summer.

FILE PHOTO: Cricket - Ashes 2019 - Fifth Test - England v Australia - Kia Oval, London, Britain - September 14, 2019 Australia's Marnus Labuschagne celebrates catching the ball to dismiss England's Jos Buttler off the bowling of Peter Siddle Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers/File photo

The irrepressible right-hander finished with an average of 112 for the five matches after a double century, two 150s, one century and three half centuries in eight innings.

His run tally was the best for an Australian in a five-test summer Down Under — bettering superlative efforts from Neil Harvey and Donald Bradman among others — and only nine runs short of Englishman Wally Hammond’s 91-year-old record.

“What he’s done is mind-blowing, really,” coach Justin Langer told reporters on Tuesday.

“It’s a great credit to him, it’s a great credit to his mental and physical endurance.

“It’s a great credit to his humility that he’s been able to remain so grounded through it. Marnus loves it so much he’d do it for nothing and those are the guys you love having around the group.”

But for the one-year bans handed to Steve Smith and David Warner for their parts in the 2018 Newlands ball-tampering scandal, however, Labuschagne might still be in Queensland waiting for his chance to play test cricket.

Born in South Africa but raised in Brisbane from the age of 10, Labuschagne was a surprise selection for the series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates in October 2018, Australia’s first after the tainted tour of South Africa.

He hardly set the world alight batting down the order in his first two tests and was a controversial call-up for the fourth test against India that sealed Australia’s first home series defeat to Asian opposition.

Those were dark times for Australian cricket but captain Tim Paine said opportunities given to the likes of Labuschagne had been as important to the team’s resurgence as the return from suspension of Smith and Warner.

“We spoke a lot about it last year, of there being a silver lining about what has happened,” Paine told reporters after Australia sealed an emphatic 3-0 sweep of New Zealand on Monday.

“The guys who got the opportunity to play test cricket who probably wouldn’t have. One of them is man of the series and has scored the most (test) runs (in 2019).”

That was Labuschagne, of course, with his 1,104 runs at 64.94 over the calendar year sending him clear of every other test batsman.

Next up for Labuschagne is Australia’s tour of India in the 50-overs format, where he will be looking to win his first one-day international cap.

“It’s going to be great opportunity,” he said. “I just love the journey and it’s lot of fun to be a part of the Australian set up.”

Editing by Peter Rutherford

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