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Labuschagne felt under no pressure during lean run of form

Australia batter also defends Alex Carey following a string of innings that began with potential but ended poorly

Alex Malcolm
Alex Malcolm
Marnus Labuschagne brought up his first fifty of the tour, New Zealand vs Australia, 2nd Test, Christchurch, 2nd Day, March 9, 2024

Marnus Labuschagne brought up his first score over 10 in four Tests  •  AFP/Getty Images

Marnus Labuschagne says he never felt in any danger of losing his place and believes Australia's revamped batting line-up is going to succeed despite another innings that was propped up by one individual performance among failures elsewhere. He also defended the shot option of wicketkeeper Alex Carey who popped up another catch in the ring to fall cheaply for the third Test innings in a row.
Labuschagne proved the adage that form is temporary, and class is permanent with a brilliant 90 to help Australia post a 94-run first innings lead on a tricky Hagley Oval pitch, although it did get better to bat on throughout the day.
It was Labuschagne's first score of more than 10 since in his last four Test matches but insisted he had been under no pressure during the lean run. "Did I feel like I was going lose my spot? I'd say no," he said. "That's what the confidence of this team has done. The coaches, the selectors, the captain, they're very clear with trusting in the players and trusting that we do have the best six, seven batters in the country here.
"If you're going through a rough patch, what we've been able to do over a period of time is, everyone's picking up each other's slack. When someone's not doing well, someone else picks it up.
"I felt like I probably haven't been at my best for a while. Since the SCG, the two 60s in each innings, I've been a bit short on runs and just short of that big score where I'm really making it count. But it's nice to be once again back in the runs."
The spotlight that was on Labuschagne's form has transferred to Carey after he endured a very difficult day with both bat and gloves. He had picked up the slack when Australia needed it against West Indies just two Tests ago. But the manner of his dismissals in that innings and since have been a huge cause for concern.
Coach Andrew McDonald noted after the Wellington win last week that they "would not hang [Carey]" on his dismissal to Glenn Phillips after he holed out to cover for the second time in the match when the trap was clearly set but instead would judge him over a period of time.
But he fell to Phillips again in this match, the only dismissal to spin of the 22 wickets to fall so far in Christchurch, after trying to paddle sweep a ball from way wide of off. He only succeeded in toeing a soft catch to midwicket.
McDonald had spoken about holding his batters accountable to their plans. Labuschagne felt like the option Carey took was on and that he was unfortunate that some spin and bounce found the toe-end of the bat.
"I'm happy with Alex's option there to get that 45 guy [square leg] in and make it very tough for the bowlers to bowl," Labuschagne said. "I think spin certainly looked like at that stage of the game where we needed to score runs. But that's how the game goes."
Carey had tried an inventive lap sweep off a fast bowler in his last Sheffield Shield game before the tour to New Zealand when he was 90 not out and popped up a catch to the keeper. Even in his excellent 65 in Brisbane against West Indies he picked out deep square when there were two catchers back on the pull shot. It is a bizarre array of dismissals for a man who is experiencing diminishing returns at Test level despite batting well in some of those innings.
To make matters worse he dropped a key catch late in the day. Tom Latham was 59 at the time, having helped New Zealand erase the deficit. Josh Hazlewood found his outside edge again and the thick deflection flew low to Carey's left. It may have carried to first slip but Carey went on instinct and got both hands to it but spilled it. His keeping has been exemplary for Australia over the last 12 months and such a miss might have otherwise gone unnoticed if his batting had not been so erratic.
Labuschagne also defended the revamped batting group, although he did acknowledge they had yet to fire as a collective since Steven Smith moved up to open and Cameron Green slotted in at No.4.
"We've got the six best batters in the country out on the field and that's what's important," Labuschagne said.
"Yeah, it's not gelling perfectly yet. The sample size is getting bigger and we're getting more information. But from what we're seeing, we're liking where Greeny is at No. 4. He's batting really well. Even last innings he played beautifully, again.
"And Steve averages 58. So he'll find a way. I am 100% sure that he's going to find a way. It's just part of the game. It is tricky up there. We haven't been playing on wickets that are very easy to start your innings on for a fair few Tests now, so once he gets in, I'm sure he's going to make it count."

Alex Malcolm is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo