Marnus Labuschagne
Down on form, Marnus Labuschagne has received backing from Australia's captain and coach. Image by Darren England/AAP PHOTOS
  • cricket

No stress over underperforming Australian Test batters

Ben McKay March 4, 2024

Pat Cummins says there is “absolutely not” pressure on Marnus Labuschagne’s spot as Australia’s first drop endures the leanest spell of his Test career.

Australia’s batters are in focus heading into the second Test in New Zealand after a run of below-par scores.

Cam Green’s mighty 174 was the difference between the two sides in Wellington, where Australia posted a 172-run win to retain the Trans-Tasman Trophy.

It also hid the fact that no other recognised batsman was able to post more than 40 through the Test, with Nathan Lyon top-scoring with 41 in the second innings.

Plenty under-achieved, with Steve Smith contributing 31 runs all Test and Travis Head just 30. 

Steve Smith
 Steve Smith managed 31 runs in total in the first Test in his new spot as opener. Image by AP PHOTO 

Labuschagne made one off 27 balls and two off 16 at the Basin Reserve, edging one to first slip and another off his legs to prolong his streak of outs.

The 29-year-old hasn’t topped 10 in his last six innings and will want runs at Christchurch’s Hagley Oval, where the second Test begins on Friday.

Skipper Cummins said Labuschagne was “absolutely not” in danger of losing his place, with selectors favouring class over form.

“I think he’d be the first to admit he’d like to score some more runs,” Cummins said.

“We’re very clear that these six guys are the six best batters in Australia.

“At times it might not have clicked all together at once but the story of our team has been someone’s been able to stand up when they need to. So everyone’s going well.”

Coach Andrew McDonald was just as firm on the settled nature of the Test side – saying he believed they had Australia’s best six batters as their top six – but admitted room for improvement on recent scores.

Only three times this summer have Australia topped 300 runs.

“There’s many factors that go into it: surfaces, opponent, situation of games (but) we feel like we can be better,” McDonald said.

“We feel as though at times we have underachieved with the bat which has left games open, probably more particularly in the third innings of games.

“We’ve had some chances in the third innings to really shut out the opponent and we’ve left the door ajar at times.”

That was plain from the Basin Reserve, when their second innings 164 gave rise to the possibility of a successful Kiwi chase.

McDonald said there “wasn’t any great concern” about Labuschagne and “when you’re winning games of cricket the concern levels are fractionally lower”.

“There’s going to be some ebbs and flows in your career,” he said, adding he saw “signs of energy and intent” in Labuschagne’s second-innings two.

“It was only two runs so I don’t want to get carried away … but that’s what we see when he’s at his best,” he said.

Alex Carey also had a poor Test at the crease, throwing his wicket away to ordinary deliveries in both innings.

Alex Carey
 Alex Carey made scores of 10 and 3 in Wellington. Image by Darren England/AAP PHOTOS 

McDonald said the gloveman was disappointed but “we’re not going to hang him on one innings or two innings”.

In contrast to New Zealand, who have injury and form issues, Australia are set to name the same XI at Hagley Oval, with McDonald saying the pace attack all pulled up well.

“You could almost pencil it in, or pen it in, it will be the same three quicks,” he said.