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Labuschagne plotting how to tackle the Ashwin puzzle

"I've changed some of my game because of what I've heard...and how he bowled to me"

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
R Ashwin has Marnus Labuschagne caught during the 2020-21 series  •  Darrian Traynor/Cricket Australia/Getty Images

R Ashwin has Marnus Labuschagne caught during the 2020-21 series  •  Darrian Traynor/Cricket Australia/Getty Images

Marnus Labuschagne is excited by the "game of chess" with R Ashwin during the Test series next month with his mind turning to the challenge since the last meeting between the teams finished.
The contest between the pair was one of the fascinating duels during the epic 2020-21 series in Australia which India famously won at the Gabba. Ashwin removed Labuschagne twice in six innings with honours ending about even in the head-to-head before Ashwin missed the deciding Test.
This will be Labuschagne's first Test tour of India - he made his ODI debut there in early 2020 - and he has long been making plans about how he will tackle Ashwin who shapes as a pivotal figure in the four-match series which starts in Nagpur on February 9.
"Since then [the last series] I've already started thinking," Labuschagne said. "I've changed some of my game because of what I've heard about Ashwin and how he bowled to me. I've adapted my game to try and foil a few of his ideas and ways he goes about it, so it's going to be a lovely game of chess and I can't wait for it."
Labuschagne's subcontinental Test experience comes from the five matches he played against Pakistan and Sri Lanka last where he had mixed success. The high point was a century in the second Test in Galle, but his dismissal for 104 came at a vital time when Australia let a strong position slip.
Labuschagne is currently on BBL duty with Brisbane Heat following the conclusion of the Test series against South Africa. Australia are due to have a brief training camp in Sydney towards the end of January and will arrive in India just seven days before the opening Test.
"People think, right now it's Big Bash then you start thinking, but the thinking happens way ahead," he said. "You start processing everything in your mind, you go through every scenario of what bowler you are going to come across. I've already thought about my plans so now it's just about executing…piece the puzzle together and make sure the puzzle is ready when it's game time. That's the key, and that's how all preparation happens."
Labuschagne will be part of a stable Australia batting order but Steven Smith will likely be key to their hopes in the series, bringing an average of 60.00 in India. The bond between Smith and Labuschagne is well known and is further illustrated in season two of The Test which is released on Friday.
"We're always talking about that game and what's to come and how we're going to go about it," Labuschagne said. "Think the important part is that once we get there, we've already gone through all the scenarios and that's where his experience and a lot of the other guy's experience will become very helpful."
The series in India begins Australia's quest for three major Test prizes overseas with a likely World Test Championship final in June - probably against India again - ahead of the Ashes.
"Can't wait, so excited for the next 10 Test matches," Labuschagne said. "We've played really well, people know we are very good at home, very tough to beat…but the challenge we have going two away series in a row, that's going to be awesome. I can't wait for the challenge against spin in India and can't wait for the challenge of Bazball verses Ronball."

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo