Labuschagne's 'sole focus' on county wins ahead of Ashes

The world No.1 Test batter begins a huge northern summer tonight when he and state teammate Michael Neser open their county seasons with Glamorgan

World No.1 Test batter Marnus Labuschagne will kick off his World Test Championship Final and Ashes preparation tonight when he lines up for his first match of the county season with Glamorgan.

Labuschagne and Queensland teammate Michael Neser missed the Welsh county's opening game of the season on April 6, arriving in UK last week ahead of a huge three months of cricket for the Aussie No.3.

The 28-year-old returns for his fourth season with the division two side where he has formed a strong relationship with Glamorgan head coach Matt Maynard.

His first season with the Cardiff-based county coincided with his dramatic Ashes initiation when he hit four consecutive half-centuries after being introduced as Steve Smith's concussion substitute at Lord's in the second Test of the 2019 series.

Labuschagne has amassed 1719 runs at 52 in 21 matches for Glamorgan, including six centuries, and has only missed the 2020 season at the onset of the pandemic since his first campaign in 2019.

Image Id: 35F457798F0C4C3995AF40B9B32D9E35 Image Caption: Labuschagne celebrates one of his six centuries for Glamorgan // Getty

It is also the first-class team where he has enjoyed his most success with the ball throughout his career, with 31 wickets at 37 bowling a combination of leg-spin and medium pace.

While Labuschagne will undoubtedly be out to help the county secure maximum points in his five games across the next month-and-a-half, it will be hard to escape the hype of the looming Ashes series, especially with the arrival of Smith at Sussex in the coming weeks for his maiden County Championship campaign.

Smith will play three games with fellow division two side Sussex, beginning with their trip to Worcester on May 4.

"Every time I come here, my focus is solely to win games for Glamorgan in any way I can," said Labuschagne ahead of their match against Bulls teammate Matthew Kuhnemann's Durham beginning today (8pm AEST) at Sophia Gardens.

"It is really nice to be back at my second home. It is my fourth year here and it's always nice to come back. I have so many great memories, friendships, and relationships with people here.

"It is nice to be back out training. It's been four weeks since India, (and my) first couple of hits on turf in about four weeks, so it's been nice."

Neser, who yesterday was a surprise omission from Australia's squad for the WTC Final and first two Ashes Tests, returns for his third campaign with Glamorgan.

Image Id: 9C424569D8FE4DFABEF2610B01BA92BA Image Caption: Neser starts his third season with Glamorgan today // Getty

The 33-year-old seamer – who has 60 wickets at 22 in his 14 appearances for the county – will lead the side's attack after the retirement of former West Australian paceman Michael Hogan, who has since made a shock comeback with Kent this season.

Neser is fresh off a career-best Marsh Sheffield Shield season for the Bulls and in his favour will be that he is only a short drive away should Australian selectors wish to add him to the Ashes equation when they revise the squad after the second Test at Lord's.

South Australian quick Wes Agar will make his county debut for Kent today when they face Essex at Canterbury after securing a late four-game deal until May 21.

The 26-year-old right-armer enjoyed a career-best 36-wicket Shield campaign for the Redbacks last season and impressed with five wickets in the first match of the Australia A tour of New Zealand before sitting out the final three days of the second match after suffering a minor side strain.

Image Id: 4D3967E5A2EE4ED6AF37214873AEF585 Image Caption: Agar took 36 wickets last Sheffield Shield season // Getty

"Wes is an exciting, wicket-taking bowler known for bowling a 'heavy ball'," said Paul Downtown, Kent Director of Cricket.

"He offers us a point of difference that will complement our core bowling group at the club and will help us in our efforts to take 20 wickets in each of our next four matches in the Championship."

Ashes squad member Marcus Harris will be hoping to continue his early season form for Gloucestershire against Worcestershire after their match last week was abandoned without a ball bowled due to wet weather, while Chris Tremain will be looking to add to his 13 wickets in two matches when he and Sam Whiteman's Northamptonshire face Hampshire at home.

Peter Siddle and Cameron Bancroft will be in action for Somerset against Jimmy Anderson's Lancashire and Nathan McAndrew's Sussex will host Yorkshire at Hove. Peter Handscomb (Leicestershire) and Sean Abbott (Surrey) have the week off.

And Lance Morris will no longer join Northants in May for a three-game stint ahead of the Ashes after suffering a back injury, which opens the door for Tremain's stint with the club to be extended.

Australians in the County Championship 

Durham: Matthew Kuhnemann

Essex: Daniel Sams (T20s only)

Glamorgan: Marnus Labuschagne, Michael Neser

Gloucestershire: Marcus Harris

Hampshire: Nathan Ellis, Ben McDermott (both T20s only)

Kent: Wes Agar, Kane Richardson (T20s only)

Leicestershire: Peter Handscomb (April and May)

Northamptonshire: Lance Morris (May 4-21), Chris Tremain (April 6-23), Sam Whiteman (until August), Chris Lynn (T20s), Andrew Tye (T20s)

Somerset: Peter Siddle (until July), Cameron Bancroft (until May 7)

Surrey: Sean Abbott (until July), Dan Worrall (UK passport)

Sussex: Nathan McAndrew (until July), Steve Smith (May 4-21)

Warwickshire: Glenn Maxwell (T20s only)

Yorkshire: Mickey Edwards (UK passport)