Australia don't anticipate a turn for the worse despite Moeen Ali's first-day spin

Labuschagne unconcerned by omission of Murphy in favour of second allrounder

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
Moeen Ali and England celebrate as Marnus Labuschagne is given out on review, England vs Australia, 4th Test, Old Trafford, July 19, 2023

Moeen Ali and England celebrate as Marnus Labuschagne is given out on review  •  Alex Davidson/Getty Images

Marnus Labuschagne is confident that Australia won't be left regretting not selecting offspinner Todd Murphy for the Old Trafford Test, despite noting how Moeen Ali had found some turn on the opening day.
For the first time since 2011-12 against India in Perth, Australia are playing a Test without a frontline spinner after Cameron Green was preferred to Murphy.
Labuschagne's half-century, his first in nine Test innings, was ended by Moeen shortly before tea but he believed that the help available on the first day may not last throughout the game.
"It's going to be interesting to say this, but think it will be one of those wickets, because [it's] been undercover for a few days it didn't have that rock hardness, the thatchiness of the grass is spinning," he said. "Once that wears off, think the middle of the wicket will not spin so much. The ends will rough up eventually if the weather stays good, but think it will actually spin less as the game goes on from the good part of the wicket."
Stuart Broad thought Moeen had caused Australia some uncertain moments but, while noting they only need a draw at Old Trafford to retain the Ashes, he did not view their final selection as defensive.
"They probably want to bat as long as they can knowing a draw is good enough for them in this game to retain the Ashes," he said. "Ultimately when you've got two allrounders who both deserve to be in the team it's a tricky decision.
"Old Trafford historically is a place you would want a spinner. Moeen bowled great today so that's something that worried them a little bit but ultimately it looks a very dangerous team. They've got 300 on the board and we've still got 12 wickets to get in the Test so it's been a great battle so far and we can judge that selection when two innings have gone."
Whatever spin bowling is required by Australia in this Test will largely be in the hands of Travis Head, although Labuschagne is ready to play a part if needed. His legspin (he has also bowled medium pace in Test cricket and has tried offspin) is less frequently used these days than it was earlier in his career, but he was practising extensively prior to the match.
"Will I be bowling? Hopefully not, because if I'm not bowling it means we are in a pretty good spot," he said. "But if I need to bowl I'm always ready, always working on it. Think it will be leggies with the amount of left-handers and there might be some rough there if the sun continues to stay out."
With the bat, this series has been characterised by Labuschagne not being able to convert his starts and though that continued with 51 on Wednesday, he was more satisfied with his performance. "I was happy with my decision-making which has been the part that has really been frustrating me from a personal side," he said.
And he did not believe that Australia's deeper batting order, with Alex Carey at No. 8, had led to complacency from those higher up.
"I can't talk from each individual's mental state, but from own, no it doesn't make a difference," he said. "My job is to come in and score runs, and score big runs, especially when I get myself in. Our whole top-order, that's our responsibility, so if those sorts of thoughts have crept in then that's probably on the individual to stamp that out, if it was a thing for the second innings.
"But think it gives you confidence as a player, because you bat deep and as you are able to see we were able to build partnerships there with Carey and Starc and Mitch and Greeny. Those runs are going to be vital, especially if we can get this lead up to 350. That's going to be a pretty decent first-innings total."

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo