Marnus Labuschagne‘s Australia A debut was memorable for two reasons. One: he could understand every little sledge South Africa A’s players dished out. Two: he struck a half-century and forged a formidable association with Travis Head, the captain, to set up their first win on tour in the Quadrangular series in Bengaluru.
Labuschagne grew up in Klerksdorp, 130 kilometres south-west of Johannesburg, before moving to Brisbane, where his father took up a job in the mining industry. Growing up predominantly in an Afrikaans-speaking household, he had little exposure to English until he moved to Australia. When he finally settled in school, he found the Australian pronunciations and the accent hard to understand.
When his class teacher asked the students to remove their “rubber and ruler”, he had no clue what she was referring to. However, instances such as these are things of the past now. “When I came here, I mainly spoke only Afrikaans,” he said. “Over the years, just learning English and what not, my speaking has gotten a lot better. I wouldn’t say the same about my spellings though (laughs), but yeah it’s better now. It’s great being able to communicate with the boys well now.”
In September last year, Labuschagne, who debuted as a 20-year old in 2014, became part of cricket trivia for being penalised under the new ‘fake fielding law’. But by the end of the season, he was being talked about for his run-scoring when he finished just nine short of Matt Renshaw’s tally of 804 runs, the most in Queensland’s victorious 2017-18 Sheffield Shield season, their first in six years.
He has also been a standout in the 50-over format, where he was named Player of the Tournament just a season earlier, in 2016-17. It coincided with Queensland finishing runners-up. Now he hopes to sustain his form across formats on his first tour of India with Australia A.
He isn’t a stranger to the country though, having had a stint in 2017 as part of the National Performance Squad. “I learnt a lot from the tour last year,” he said. “Just spending time in the nets here and batting a lot over here is key. Been working with Sri [S Sriram, Cricket Australia’s spin consultant] on those plans and how to approach spin, and what the benefits are for approaching pace and spin in India.”
“It’s always good to contribute to a side that wins at the end of the day. It was nice that I was able to do my job [on Australia A debut]. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go on and make a big one at the end there, but it was good to get the team in a good position. We spoke about how one of the top four needs to get big hundreds. We did that perfectly; we had people who supported Travis (Head) on the way to a big total.
Labushagne is far from a white-ball destroyer. He prides himself on being able to keep runs ticking as a middle-order batsman, preferring the patience route to consistency. “I think it’s about being calm,” he said. “It’s about knowing if the bowler has bowled a few good balls, to then go ‘righto, we will be still able to score.’ Just trusting your game is the key. If you panic under the circumstances and think you need to hit out, the next ball for six, you can put yourself under unnecessary pressure.”
He has already had a taste of international cricket, when he was brought in as a substitute during a Test against India at Brisbane in 2014. He even took a reflex-action catch at short leg to mark his presence. Obviously, Labuschagne doesn’t want that to be his only memory of international cricket.
“It’s great to have a good Shield season, I’m trying to learn as much as possible all the time,” he said. “I’m trying to improve my game as much as I can. [In that sense], its good to be tested here, and having to adapt here to the conditions in India. Queensland won the Shield last year, we had a very good team, and we obviously have a few players from the team here in the Australia A side, pushing for places. It’s a good thing.”