Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo
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Marnus Labuschagne is a self-confessed tinkerer when it comes to his batting, sometimes changing things mid-innings, and he is focused on using the upcoming six ODIs against Zimbabwe and New Zealand in northern Australia to continue to adapt his middle-order game with little more than a year to go until the World Cup.
Labuschagne now has 21 ODIs under his belt since making his debut shortly before Covid disrupted the game - the opening ODI against Zimbabwe in Townsville on August 28 will be Australia's first on home soil since November 2020. He scored a century in his fifth innings, an emotional performance against South Africa in the country of his birth, and has also made a couple of sparkling half-centuries either side of Australia's 13-month absence from the format.
However, he was left frustrated by his returns on the recent tour of Sri Lanka, even knowing there were some tough conditions as the series progressed, having fallen between 18 and 31 in all five innings.
"Looking back on it, I certainly wish I'd played a slightly different way," he told ESPNcricinfo. "I almost started a little too defensively so I'm just reviewing my theories there and wished I'd applied my Test method a little bit more in those conditions; sweeping the ball, using my feet a little more. It was a bit disappointing from my end, that I didn't really do that until the Test series came. For me, it's a learning experience."
Part of that learning is to adjust to what could be the No. 5 position on a more regular basis. He twice batted there in Sri Lanka, with Josh Inglis and Travis Head in the slot above, and though neither of those players is part of the current squad, Mitchell Marsh and Steven Smith could both go in ahead of Labuschagne.
"I enjoy the different challenges, that's for sure," he said. "I always like batting in the top order, I've spent my whole life there, but understanding the team make-up, batting at No. 5, I need to continue to get better at that role and through the middle overs understanding when to attack and defend. It's about really trusting myself. That's the great thing with the coaching staff, they have full trust in us as players, to take the game on and put pressure back on the opposition.
"To be really positive out of the blocks is key for me. Understanding what the situation is. If we are going well it's about making sure that I'm getting the other batter on strike if he's really got momentum and starting to build the partnership. Putting the bowler under pressure from ball one and if I can do that it certainly changes the dynamic."
There has been some discussion about whether there is room for both Labuschagne and Smith in the ODI middle order with them having career strike rates of 85.80 and 88.43 respectively, but unsurprisingly, Labuschagne is not having a bar of that. Back in November 2020, the pair produced a stand of 136 in 16 overs against India at the SCG which gave a glimpse of how they could work together.
"I don't really see us as similar players, I think we attack the game very differently," Labuschagne said. "[Steve] goes a lot more straight down the wicket, especially against spin, whereas I attack it quite square with sweeps. Obviously, I think there's room for both of us. Steve got 100 off 60 balls against India in back-to-back games and feel like we complement each other depending on what the situation is. If it's a tough wicket, we can control the middle overs, but on the other side, we can put pressure on the opposition at a lower risk and be able to score quickly. The challenge is we've just got to continue to push that run rate, especially when we are batting first, and we both understand that."
On the broader theme of the ODI format's standing in the game at a time of unprecedented schedule crunch, Labuschagne is equally enthusiastic and hopes to add another chapter to Australia's World Cup legacy next year in India.
"I love 50-over cricket, it's a good mix, you need to show some really good tactical nous, understanding your opposition, getting wickets through the middle overs and trying to score at seven or eight runs an over at low risk, that's a different challenge in itself. I really enjoy the format, there's space for all three, it's just about how we schedule it.
"The history that comes with one-day cricket makes it such an amazing format. There's been so many great World Cup wins over so many years, so to be a part of a World Cup would be an amazing experience and one that I look forward to. Still think it's the pinnacle of international white-ball events."