The new Mr Cricket? Marnus' mighty Ashes entrance
The consistent Queenslander follows in the footsteps of the former batsman who gave him his Baggy Green
5 September 2019, 09:22 PM AEST
Australian great Mike Hussey has praised the composure and ability to handle pressure of Marnus Labuschagne as the Queenslander closes in on a niche Ashes record.
Mike Hussey set a new benchmark in Ashes cricket when he hit five consecutive scores of 50 or more in his first five Test innings against England.
It's a mark Labuschagne is now one innings away from matching after his fourth successive half-century on day one at Old Trafford.
Hussey presented Labuschagne with his Baggy Green cap in Dubai last year ahead of his debut against Pakistan, but it's been the pressure of a campaign against Australia's old enemy that has brought out the best in him.
"He looks like he's got a really good solid technique, but more importantly he looks really well organised mentally and keeps his composure really well," Hussey told cricket.com.au.
"I think that's really important at Test match level, being able to handle the pressure situations.
"Over here, coming in the way he did as a concussion replacement and to play such an important innings for Australia on that last day at Lord's, particularly after he got hit early on by Jofra Archer – he bounced back up, looked him straight in the eye and you knew he was right up for the challenge.
"And he didn't panic, he seemed composed and calm and in control."
Labuschagne's 67 in Manchester followed the 59 he hit in the second innings at Lord's as Steve Smith's concussion substitute, and the 74 and 80 he struck at Headingley.
Just two other players in the storied history of the Ashes have announced their entrance with four straight half-centuries - Australia's Herbie Collins in 1920-21, and England's Herbert Sutcliffe in 1924-25.
Hussey surpassed that mark in the 2006-07 series when he was the middle-order fulcrum in a rampant Australian side hell-bent on avenging their defeat in 2005, and posted scores of 86 at the Gabba, 91 and 61 not out in that amazing Adelaide Test, and 74 not out and 103 in Perth.
His record-breaking introduction to Ashes cricket was largely overshadowed by Adam Gilchrist unleashing for a whirlwind 59-ball century on the same day, and Hussey – the player nicknamed Mr Cricket – admitted he wasn't even aware he held the record.
"When I played I was just in the bubble trying to concentrate on doing as well as I could," Hussey said. "I don't think Marnus would be focusing on that now, and just trying to get a hundred.
"When he first started playing Test cricket we could see there was some good stuff there and he managed to get some decent starts but wasn't able to go on with it.
"Here in England he's been able to get four fifties in a row, but now the challenge for him is to push those half-centuries into triple-figure scores, which I'm sure he'll do in the future.
"He's obviously doing a lot right, it's just a case of doing it for longer.
"Only he can answer how he is mentally, but I thought yesterday he copped an absolute jaffa (when bowled by Craig Overton), there's not much he could have really done.
"He's just got to keep doing it ball after ball after ball for longer periods of time."
Labuschagne said his extensive county cricket preparation, where he piled on centuries with Glamorgan, had been key to his run in Ashes cricket.
"It's been good to stay to your game plan," Labuschagne told host broadcaster Sky Sports before day two.
"I've been able to do well this series so far, stay real consistent in my preparation but also in my process of playing spin or pace or whoever the different bowlers are, and being able to adapt to what they're trying to do."
There was a change of tactics from England at Old Trafford, but Labuschagne was able to adapt.
"The first few Tests they hung it out a bit wider (of the off stump) and this Test they came a bit straighter, and obviously (have a plan) with that catcher on the leg side and the square leg," Labuschagne said.
"You have to be able to adapt and you know when they come straighter they're more chance of getting a wicket, but you're more chance of getting runs."
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.
England squad: Joe Root (c), Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jack Leach, Craig Overton, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Chris Woakes.
First Test: Australia won by 251 runs at Edgbaston
Second Test: Match drawn at Lord's
Third Test: England won by one wicket at Headingley
Fourth Test: September 4-8, Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval