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Labuschagne: 'Mum had a feeling I would play'

Labuschagne produces more super-sub heroics; Cameron Green ruled out for eight days with concussion

Alex Malcolm
Alex Malcolm
Marnus Labuschagne revived Australia's innings, South Africa vs Australia, 1st ODI, Bloemfontein, September 7, 2023

Concussion sub Marnus Labuschagne walked out at No. 8 and scripted an unlikely win for Australia  •  AFP/Getty Images

Australia's selectors might give Marnus Labuschagne's mother Alta a call to get some insight into how the next three months of ODI cricket will unfold, after she correctly predicted that her son would play in Bloemfontein, where he saved Australia's blushes as the supersub again through the most unlikely set of circumstances.
Labuschagne made 80 not out to guide Australia home to a three-wicket win chasing just 223 after replacing Cameron Green as the concussion substitute.
Green was hit behind the left ear when he ducked into a Kagiso Rabada bouncer off the second ball he faced after walking out at No. 4 for the first time in his ODI career. Green retired hurt and didn't return. Cricket Australia confirmed he had a precautionary scan and will now enter an eight-day concussion protocol where he will be monitored daily by the medical staff. He is not going to be available to play again until at least the last match of the series on September 17.
Labuschagne was initially left out of the ODI squad to tour South Africa and Australia's provisional 15-man World Cup squad having averaged just 22.30 and struck at a lowly 69.87 over his previous 14 ODI innings dating back to April 2022, and had admitted he "wasn't too shocked" he was dropped, when speaking in the aftermath of his sensational 80 not out on return.
But as Labuschagne was preparing to play some 50-over matches for Australia A against New Zealand A in Queensland, which start this week, a wrist tendon injury to Steven Smith saw him getting called up to South Africa as cover for that series.
Even then it appeared like he was just getting a free trip to South Africa to visit family as he was listed 15th on Australia's team sheet for the first ODI, behind Tim David and Aaron Hardie.
But despite all evidence to the contrary, Alta Labuschagne stayed at the ground in Bloemfontein for the entirety of Australia's bowling innings and the start of the chase and was proven right. Green was hit in the head in the sixth over of Australia's reply. Five overs later, Australia confirmed Labuschagne would be the concussion sub for Green, as he famously was for Smith at Lord's in the second Ashes Test in 2019. And one over later he was out in the middle at No. 7 with Australia in dire straits at 72 for 5. From there he guided his side home with a classy 93-ball innings, looking every bit the world-class player he has been at Test level.
"She's an amazing woman," Labuschagne said of his mother's premonition. "She stayed for the whole game. Even though I wasn't playing for the first three-and-a-half hours of the game. She had a feeling. She was adamant when I came here that I was going to play this game. And I told her, 'I've seen the team, Mum, I'm not in the team'. She just got a feeling and, once again, she's right. It's hard to describe, to be honest."
"I wasn't too shocked when I was dropped. I said that to the selectors, I said, 'I understand I haven't made runs'. But I did say that I still want to be that person for you batting in the middle order. And then you've just got to sit tight and wait for your opportunity. And when the opportunity comes, you've got to be ready"
Marnus Labuschagne on his omission from Australia's World Cup squad
Labuschagne's innings will undoubtedly cause some external discussions around his omission from Australia's World Cup squad. But Labuschagne was having none of it, taking full responsibility for his recent ODI form and being completely understanding of the reasons behind his omission.
"I have been really disappointed with how I've played my one-day cricket, the last 10 to 12 games I felt like I haven't shown the intensity and the courage that I would have liked," he said. "I wasn't too shocked when I was dropped. I said that to the selectors, I said, 'I understand I haven't made runs'. But I did say that I still want to be that person for you batting in the middle order. And then you've just got to sit tight and wait for your opportunity. And when the opportunity comes, you've got to be ready."
Ready he was, just like he was at Lord's. Labuschagne revealed he only took three or four days off after the gruelling Ashes series and was straight back into the nets working on his white-ball deficiencies.
That work immediately paid dividends. He admitted the lowering of expectations, both personally and externally, does help when entering as a concussion sub. But even with that, his performance was extraordinary. On a surface where every player struggled at times to find rhythm and timing, including South Africa captain Temba Bavuma during his outstanding unbeaten century, Labuschagne's timing was sublime from the outset racing to 34 off his first 20 balls without really taking a risk.
"It comes (down) to your training, I always pride myself on training well, and making sure I'm always ready," Labuschagne said. "The opportunity that happens when you're a concussion sub is sometimes a little bit of a free hit because the pressure of the game is out there but obviously the expectation is probably not as much on you."
He got outstanding support from Ashton Agar, who made his highest ODI score of 48 not out to help Labuschagne guide Australia home, reinforcing the selectors' desire to have an XI that bats as deep as possible. It was just Agar's third score above 30 in an ODI but he has recently been working diligently on simplifying his batting and his mental approach and that work was also evident.
It is unlikely Australia's selectors will second guess their initial decision to leave Labuschagne out of the World Cup squad but his performance, alongside Agar's, will give them enormous confidence in their bench strength which continues to flex its muscle as South Africa white-ball coach Rob Walter lamented after the T20I series.
Australia's injury toll remains a concern, with Green now added to the list of concerns alongside Smith, Glenn Maxwell (ankle), Pat Cummins (wrist) and Mitchell Starc (groin) ahead of the World Cup.
Labuschagne proved he is ready to go at a moment's notice and a man for a crisis, particularly on difficult pitches. His mum might tell him to keep his passport within arm's reach at all times as the World Cup draws closer.

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo