Men's Ashes 2021-22
Marnus eager to get Wood back over pace star
England fast bowler Mark Wood’s hold over Marnus Labuschagne has only made the No.1 Test batter in the world hungrier to face him in the fifth Test in Hobart
Louis Cameron in Hobart
13 January 2022, 05:43 PM AEST
Mark Wood has forced Marnus Labuschagne into tinkering with the technique that has made him the No.1 Test batter in the world, but the speedster's hold over him has only increased the Australian's eagerness to resume their duel in Hobart.
In dismissing Labuschagne three times in as many innings, Wood has done what no bowler has previously managed to do over the course of the right-hander’s short 22-Test career that this summer has seen him rise above Joe Root on the ICC's Test batting rankings.
Labuschagne revealed on the Unplayable Podcast on Thursday that a noticeable technical adjustment in his stance was made specifically to counter the threat of the fiery Englishman who the Australians have made no secret of their admiration for.
Ricky Ponting believes the tweak, made mid-fourth Test after edging Wood at the MCG (caught at first slip for 1) and again in Sydney in the first innings (caught behind for 28), actually then contributed to Labuschagne's third dismissal at the SCG.
Not that Labuschagne, the series' leading batter with 286 runs at 47.66, has been shirking from their contest.
In fact he says he was the one to get Wood's attention to tell him he was bowling not long after he had arrived at the crease during the Sydney Test.
"Joe Root was signalling to Mark Wood on the field (saying) 'Mate, you're bowling next end' and Woody wasn't watching," Labuschagne said on the podcast.
"I said 'Woody, you're on mate' and he had a bit of a giggle because Joe Root was signalling to him and he wasn't watching.
"He was going to bowl anyway, regardless of what I said. Root was just hand signalling for about 40 seconds, and he was just not really watching.
"He's a great character. We've had some really good chats around the hotel and I love the battle.
"If he's playing tomorrow, it's going to be really exciting to see that battle again."
Labuschagne spent eight hours at Kookaburra's bat factory in Melbourne ahead of the recent Boxing Day Test and his sheer enthusiasm for his craft means he is desperate to take on Wood on what looms as another bowler-friendly Ashes pitch at Blundstone Arena.
Wood's angle at the right-handed batters has made him a handful and most believe he has bowled better than his overall series figures of eight wickets at 37.62 would suggest.
"You're trying to work out ways to negate their best ball, you're trying to work out ways to score runs, you're trying to work out ways to get the upper hand," said Labuschagne.
"That's what I did in that second innings, just trying to get myself in a position to change what line and what length Mark Wood's bowling.
"That's what the change of trigger and trying to get a little bit further across (was for). I won't delve too much more of it now.
"Certainly after the Test, we can talk more about why I'm doing it but it's certainly to negate that that angle that he has coming from so wide of the crease."
It is perhaps no coincidence that Labuschagne's major success in this campaign came in the other pink-ball match in Adelaide (scoring 101 and 51 to earn player-of-the-match honours) when Wood was rested.
Labuschagne's technical adjustment in Sydney did not go unnoticed by Wood.
"His back foot was coming across more and opening himself about a little to counter-act … when I was trying to bowl wide on the crease," Wood told reporters today.
"I got him again. I'm not sure if that's going to work every time."
Ponting had suggested Labuschagne's exaggerated across his crease in the second innings in Sydney meant he nicked a ball he could have otherwise cut, and Wood too conceded there was an element of fortune in it.
"It wasn't the greatest ball I've bowled," said Wood, who has taken on the role of England’s pace ‘point of difference’ in the absence of Jofra Archer and Olly Stone. "It bounced a little bit and it might have hit a crack or something.
"He's one hell of a player so I'm just pleased to get top players out like him. Hopefully that stays the same and I can keep getting the big wickets.
"He's a guy we know we need to capitalise in the first 20 balls of his innings and really put him under pressure because if he gets in he can do a lot of damage."
First Test: Australia won by nine wickets
Second Test: Australia won by 275 runs
Third Test: Australia won by an innings and 14 runs
Fourth Test: Match drawn
Fifth Test: January 14-18, Blundstone Arena