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Challenge of the unknown for Marnus Labuschagne and Australia in Pakistani conditions

Australia "don't have much intel" as they get ready for their first trip to Pakistan in 24 years, but the No. 1 Test batter is being innovative with his prep work for spin

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
Marnus Labuschagne is keeping an open mind over what conditions will confront Australia on their tour of Pakistan but is relishing the prospect of playing overseas again after a gap of two-and-a-half years.
It will be Australia's first trip to Pakistan in 24 years and just the third full Test series Pakistan has hosted since the format returned in 2019 following visits by Sri Lanka, Bangladesh (aborted due to the pandemic) and South Africa.
Matches in those three series have been held across Rawalpindi and Karachi which will both host Australia, while Lahore will stage its first Test since 2009. It has made for limited data for players, coaches and selectors to analyse ahead of the tour - although Pakistan's first-class matches have also been delved into - but in the five Tests since 2019 pace has averaged 29.61 and spin 39.41.
"It's a really exciting challenge to go over there. We don't really know what we'll get, we don't have much intel on the wickets," Labuschagne said. "If the wickets are what I've heard they are - they've got a good pace attack and they have some pace in their wickets - well we've had plenty of practice on fast, bouncy wickets at the Gabba, so think we've got that covered.
"One part we don't have covered is spin. We don't necessarily have too many wickets around our country that spin. You can only do your best with recreating conditions that you face, then from there you try to make sure you are prepared when you get out there."
Labuschange has got inventive ahead of the tour with a homemade mat with aluminium strips taped to it, to try and replicate the ball skidding through inconsistently, which he showed off via social media last week. The final design had come after some advice from Steven Smith whose experience in the subcontinent will be vital. Australia have not played in such conditions since facing Pakistan in the UAE in 2018-19, a series Smith and David Warner missed due to their bans but which marked Labuschagne's Test debut.
"I thought what is the best way I can recreate spin," Labuschagne explained, "but not just consistent spin because that's quite easy to recreate…but where some [balls] spin, some slide and where you can't really predict what it's doing."
Since that first experience of Test cricket, which initially lasted two matches before being in and out of the side until the famous concussion role for Smith at Lord's in the 2019, Labuschange has ascended to be the top-ranked batter but is keen to challenge himself away from home.
"I feel very privileged to currently be the No. 1 but I also feel the challenge," he said. "I haven't played much away from home, so really looking forward to the challenge and hopefully stand up to the different conditions we'll play [in] over the next two years."
The tour of Pakistan will also be the first Test series since Justin Langer's resignation as head coach earlier this month. Speaking to ABC Radio on Monday, new CA chair Lachlan Henderson indicated they hoped to have a permanent replacement in place as soon as next month. Andrew McDonald will take interim charge and is one of the favourites for the full-time position.
"I got along really well with JL, had a great relationship, and have a lot to thankful for," Labuschagne said. "He had the faith in me when I was averaging 30, saw something in me and gave me an opportunity, so I'll always be thankful for him for that. But as professional sport, it moves quick and we just have to move forward and take on the next challenge without him."

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo