Ashes 2023, Australia vs England, Fourth Test, Old Trafford, Manchester, weather, Marnus Labuschagne, century,

Marnus Labuschagne by his own admission would say he hasn’t been at his best this Ashes series.

He’s started each Test match with a different stance when he first arrived at the crease, getting himself in and getting himself out with four scores between 20 and 50 before this match.

It’s been a real battle for the Queenslander, who arrived in England ranked the number one batter in the world.

But Labuschagne still had his detractors due to his differing records both at home and abroad. Before today, only one of his previous 10 Test centuries have come in Australia.

Labuschagne is the ultimate student of the game — he’s always in pursuit of runs and constantly tinkering to find a method that works, as he has all series.

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Australia batter Marnus Labuschagne. Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
Australia batter Marnus Labuschagne. Photo by Stu Forster/Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

The Queenslander needed to lock in when he came to the crease on Friday afternoon with Australia well behind the game and fighting to stay alive — not just for his team, but for his own self esteem.

He scored 51 in the first innings before losing concentration and getting dismissed leg before to Moeen Ali, but it wasn’t enough to fill the 29-year-old’s cup.

Resuming on 44 when play finally got underway on Day 4 at Old Trafford, Labuschagne and Mitchell Marsh drove the scoring for Australia as they fought through opening bursts from James Anderson, Mark Wood and then Chris Woakes.

He passed fifty with little fanfare as the overhead conditions continued to threaten.

When the light-meters came out and Ben Stokes was forced into bowling his spinners only if they wanted to stay on the field, Labuschagne started creeping closer towards triple figures.

He passed his previous highest Test score in England (80 at Headingley in 2019) by lofting Joe Root twice into the stands before fortuitously edging a ball just out of reach of Zak Crawley at first slip to move through the nineties.

A dab into the covers and scampering through was enough to bring up the milestone.

After being one of a handful of batters to make a start in Australia’s stop-start first innings, Australia needed Labuschagne to stand tall and deliver an innings of substance on his second attempt.

The signs were there on Friday, according to former Australian international Callum Ferguson.

“I thought that the timing (of his shots) at the end of the day’s play was great from Labuschagne,” Ferguson said on Channel 9.

“He’s struggled to push on from his starts of 20-40 odd. That timing came nicely for him.

“He was really solid through this innings.”

A player with such pedigree and ability, Labuschagne’s lack of form thus far this series had been puzzling, but a change of fortune here in Manchester might be key to saving the Ashes for Australia.

“Marnus Labuschagne has had a disappointing tour with the bat. I was expecting big things from him in this Ashes series,” former England spinner Phil Tufnell on BBC Test Match Special.

“He‘s technically looks the same, but there have been lapses in concentration. He batted beautifully here and maybe the situation focused the mind. That might be a match-saving innings for Australia.”

BBC commentator Alison Mitchell continued: “It‘s almost a dead cert that Marnus Labuschagne scores a hundred in Australia.

“His record is phenomenal. It‘s a surprise that he hasn’t managed to do the same thing overseas. For him to get over the line in a series he hasn’t really made the impact people thought he would. His familiarity with English conditions, playing for Glamorgan, you would have thought he would stamped his authority sooner.”

Australia’s Marnus Labuschagne celebrates reaching his century. Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFPSource: AFP

His stay at the crease ended with another lapse in concentration, edging a ball behind to Jonny Bairstow for 111 off Root.

“Marnus Labuschagne just got loose as soon as he passed 100,” former England opener Mark Butcher remarked on Sky Sports.

While it still may ultimately be in a losing cause, the uptick in form will excite Labuschagne and the Australian camp when the series heads to The Oval next week.

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