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Could Steven Smith's potential absence open T20 World Cup door for Marnus Labuschagne?

Labuschagne has nailed Smith's anchoring role while playing for Glamorgan in the Vitality Blast

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Marnus Labuschagne started the T20 Blast with three consecutive fifties  •  Getty Images for Surrey CCC

Marnus Labuschagne started the T20 Blast with three consecutive fifties  •  Getty Images for Surrey CCC

It has been a theme of Marnus Labuschagne's career that he has taken opportunities provided by Steven Smith's absences. He made his Test debut in the UAE when Smith was midway through his Sandpapergate ban, and his Ashes debut a year later as a concussion replacement for Smith after he was felled by a Jofra Archer bouncer.
And the streak could extend into T20I cricket, with Labuschagne among the potential beneficiaries if Smith's persistent elbow injury causes him to miss the T20 World Cup in the UAE later this year. Smith hinted last week in an interview with that he would be willing to miss the tournament if it meant ensuring his fitness for the start of the Ashes, and if Australia decide they want a similar player anchoring the innings at No. 3, Labuschagne is an obvious candidate.
It was a great anomaly of Labuschagne's career that he had only played 10 professional T20 matches before this year, but with opportunities hard to come by in the BBL, he had pitched his case as a short-form player by hitting a 51-ball hundred in an intra-squad warm-up match at the Ageas Bowl in England last year. He contributed without starring for the Brisbane Heat in their run to the Challenger final earlier this year, but his game has clearly progressed in the Vitality Blast with Glamorgan.
Labuschagne's 294 runs in the competition have come at an average of 58.80 and a strike rate of 137.38 - healthy enough, given four of his six innings have come on Cardiff's two-paced pitches. His method has been similar to Smith's, starting slowly by giving himself 10-15 balls to play himself in, before accelerating at the back end - he has scored 68 runs off the 35 balls he has faced at the death. He has also chipped in with seven wickets at an economy rate of 7.43, and could yet provide Australia with a third spin option to complement Ashton Agar and Adam Zampa.
"I think the tournament has gone alright," he told ESPNcricinfo at Pencaerau Primary School in Cardiff, where he was coaching schoolchildren at a Chance to Shine event as part of Yorkshire Tea's National Cricket Week - a rare morning spent throwing, rather than hitting, balls. "I obviously started really well in those first three games [he scored 93*, 59 and 74]. The last couple of games, we've played on some tougher wickets and obviously I haven't been able to get that big score - a couple of 20s and a 30.
"I think that's the way T20 goes. I don't think you're ever going to go six or seven games where you're getting big scores consistently because the format demands you to play a higher-risk game earlier in your innings, and so you can't get that consistency. But I've loved it, growing and learning my game, and learning every game about how I can continue to get better."
Labuschagne has spoken repeatedly during his time in Wales about his ambition to play in the T20 World Cup, and in particular, his excitement at the opportunity to play a 14-match stretch of games in the tournament's group stage - nearly doubling his career tally.
Circumstances have got in the way, with Nick Selman's positive Covid-19 test forcing him to self-isolate for 10 days along with compatriot Michael Neser as close contacts, but he will return to the squad on next week to play the final two group games. The timing has been particularly frustrating as Labuschagne was left out of the squad to tour the Caribbean primarily to avoid long stretches of quarantine and in order to give him the chance to play consistently in the format.
"There's been a lot of talk about my ambition to play in the T20 World Cup, but my job is just to keep scoring runs," he said. "If it becomes an option and Australia are looking for someone in that middle order then it'd be an amazing opportunity to play.
"What is really exciting is really, for my own benefit, the opportunity to just get some confidence about my T20 game and learn my game. There's not really much conversation [with the selectors], it's just keep putting runs on the board, keep taking wickets, and we'll see where we're at."
Once the group stages are over, Labuschagne will fly home, cutting short his second stint with the club (he is already under contract for a third next summer). While he considered staying in the UK, potentially to take part in the Hundred, he decided - perhaps uncharacteristically - that he could do with a break from the game before a busy home season.
"I'm going to take some time and go home before a pretty big summer ahead," he said. "Our domestic season starts on September 11 so there's not much room there - once you're out of quarantine, it's almost mid-August, and then you've only got three weeks before you're playing again. It'll be a nice time to recuperate and catch up with family before a really busy 18 months for Australia."
In the County Championship, the competition he dominated in 2019 before his Ashes bow, Labuschagne has found runs significantly harder to come by, managing 151 runs at 25.16 to date compared to 1,114 at 65.52 two years ago. Among his dismissals was an edge behind off James Anderson at Emirates Old Trafford, which he admitted was "disappointing… but I loved the challenge."
He tuned up for next week's game against Northamptonshire with a record-breaking 276 off 268 balls for the second XI, and insisted that his record has been down to pitches rather than his own form. "The wickets were certainly slightly better for batting in 2019," he said.
"I've got a lot to thank Glamorgan for - taking a chance on me when I was probably unproven at that stage when I first came over. It's nice to be here and hopefully I can continue that trajectory upwards, and continue to grow and learn my game."
Yorkshire Tea works with the charity Chance to Shine to help young people play, learn and develop through the game in schools and communities. This summer, donations to Chance to Shine are being matched by Charity Patron Adrian Beecroft. Please support today at

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98