The last challenge facing cricket’s Mr Insatiable

IT'S the question we may never be able to answer.

If Marnus Labuschagne was floored by the same virus that kept three Kiwi players out of the third Test would he have played anyway?

The quips were flying in the press box that Labuschagne would have walked out, sweating profusely, head thumping, coughing all the way, declaring to the team doctor "I've still got a pulse … what's the issue''.

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Being crook is one thing but missing a Test? Seriously?

Mr Insatiable was at it again on Saturday, amassing 215 before he bunted a catch back to leg-spinner Todd Astle, guiding Australia to a 400-plus total for the fifth time in as many Tests this summer.

There was no sense his batting marathons this summer had left him leg weary for he was the first member of the slips cordon out for practice between innings.

The edge to the boundary which gave Labuschagne the cherished double century in some ways embodied his attitude to batting.

There was not a moment's contemplation at being beaten. Labuschagne is either in or out but he doesn't look back.

Labuschagne shows no fear at the crease. Picture: AP
Labuschagne shows no fear at the crease. Picture: AP

There's no scar tissue clinging to his game from narrow escapes, not that he has many.

He is Mr Onwards and Upwards and with each century he surges further into the company of some of the game's most distinguished figures.

After 20 Test innings he has the second highest batting average in Test history behind Don Bradman (99.94), just ahead of his inspiration and regular partner Steve Smith (62.84).

It is in no way a definitive body of evidence but it is still significant because the 20 innings mark is the traditional cut-off point for respectable comparisons.

Labuschagne is flying like few batsmen in the history of the game have flown before him.

With every passing century there is more a sense that we are seeing the emergence of a truly exceptional batsman rather than simply a smart talent having a big summer out.

We are witnessing the emergence of a truly special talent in Labuschagne. Picture: Brett Costello
We are witnessing the emergence of a truly special talent in Labuschagne. Picture: Brett Costello

Each innings seems, in some ways, an extension of the previous one. The aggressive leaving of dangerous balls, the sense that he is luring the attack into his lair.

The sense, as Chris Lynn once said, that Marnus owns the "phone box'' in which he bats, that tight little area around him where his eyes, arms, bat and feet are all part of a neatly grooved symphony.

The conditions change and so does his game plans, such as batting outside his crease. But the phone box remains the same.

Labuschagne may have played his last Test innings of the summer and the question is where does he go from here?

In his brief Test career he has proved he can handle the swinging, seaming balls delivered and the bounce of Australian decks.

As Allan Border points out, the last challenge is the turning decks of the Indian subcontinent.

Labuschagne will get a taste of them when he tours Bangladesh for the two-Test series mid-year.

England, Pakistan and New Zealand are yet to come up with a game plan that troubles him and he is one of a select group of batsmen who puts extra pressure on the bowlers by having hard-to-play shots such as the on-drive.

On evidence presented this summer, there seems no reason why he won't prove competitive in the Indian subcontinent.

There is no single shot that stands out in his game but that says much about the fact that he has most shots and is happy to play them.