Ashes batting hopeful Marnus Labuschagne looks set to play a big role with the ball in county cricket this year as Australia weigh up their allrounder options for the Tests against England.
Labuschagne, who played the final three Tests of last summer, made a good start in his quest to retain his spot in Australia’s top six for the Ashes, scoring a century on debut for Glamorgan last week.
Notably, Labuschagne also bowled a career-high 44 overs of leg-spin in Northamptonshire’s monster first innings of 750 on a flat pitch at Sophia Gardens, finishing with figures of 3-122.
Glamorgan opted for a four-man pace attack for their season opener and Labuschagne expects to bowl plenty more during the season as one of the county’s leading spin options.
“Playing as one of the main spinners in the side means I'm bowling a lot of overs, which is also good for my learning,” the Queenslander told RSN this week.
“I definitely love playing both roles, but I'm definitely a batter first.
“The bowling is something I've only been doing really since I changed my action a bit and started bowling a little bit quicker (in) the last off-season. Since then I've worked really hard on it.”
Labuschagne insists it’s runs rather than wickets that will secure him an Ashes berth, but the 24-year-old has made more of an impact with the ball than the bat in his brief Test career so far.
He bowled 39 overs in the two Tests against Pakistan last October, taking seven wickets for the series at 22, a better return than frontline spinner Jon Holland (four wickets at 75).
He also took two wickets against Sri Lanka in Canberra in February, although he was used sparingly during the home summer.
“Obviously my batting is the key to any selection – I’m a batter, I’m not a bowler who bats,” he said. “But if I keep scoring runs, I think it just adds a string to the bow.
“I've always wanted to improve all facets of my game … so it's exciting over the last year that I've been able to improve my bowling, and continue and work on and develop that area. It's just a matter of sticking at it.”
Labuschagne’s ability to send down some handy overs could act favourably for him in a tiebreaker situation for Ashes selection, especially given the lack of obvious all-round options at Australia’s disposal.
Mitchell Marsh has been named in the Australia A squad to tour the UK ahead of the England Tests, but his fall from international contention in recent months was confirmed this week when he was left off Cricket Australia’s contract list.
Marsh and Marcus Stoinis, who was called into the Test squad during the summer but is yet to debut, loom as the main candidates if Australia opt for a pace-bowling allrounder in their Ashes squad.
Quicks James Pattinson and Michael Neser, who were also named for the A tour, are handy batsmen themselves, but Marsh and Stoinis are seemingly the only fast-bowling options capable of batting in the top six.
Glenn Maxwell, who took five wickets on debut for Lancashire last week, is also an option despite having not played a Test match since September 2017.
Given the five-match Ashes series will be crammed into just six weeks at the end of the English summer, Australia will need to carefully manage the workload of their leading fast bowlers during and between Tests.
Coach Justin Langer said this week that Marsh’s international career is far from over despite falling down the pecking order last summer.
“It’s not the end of the road,” Langer told RSN.
“He’s only 27, he’s played 30-odd Tests and 50-odd ODIs. The message for him is there’s great competition in Australian cricket now and you’ve got to be on top of your game all the time. We know how quickly it can change.
“He’s such a talented player so he’s not far off, I don’t think.”
Former coach Darren Lehmann favoured picking a pace-bowling allrounder in his Test side, but Australia have gone without one in five of eight Tests so far under Langer’s watch.
Qantas Ashes Tour of the UK 2019
Tour match: Australia v Australia A, Hampshire, July 23-26
First Test: August 1-5 at Edgbaston, Birmingham
Tour match: Australia v Worcestershire, August 7-9
Second Test: August 14-18 at Lord's, London
Third Test: August 22-26 at Headingley, Leeds
Tour match: Australia v Derbyshire, August 29-31
Fourth Test: September 4-8 at Old Trafford, Manchester
Fifth Test: September 12-16 at The Oval, London