Former Australia opener Usman Khawaja has warned against moving Marnus Labuschagne up the order to replace the injured David Warner for the upcoming Test series against England. Khawaja, who has played 44 Tests for Australia, said that Labuschagne should stick to his No. 3 position where he has been prolific in the past two years.
Labuschagne has been one of the most consistent batsmen in Test cricket since he came in as a concussion substitute for Steve Smith during the 2019 Ashes series in England. He has scored 1885 runs in 23 Tests at an average of 60.80, with five hundreds and 10 fifties. He has also formed a solid partnership with Smith at No. 4, adding 1482 runs in 20 innings at an average of 74.10.
Labuschagne’s record at No. 3 is even more impressive, as he has scored 1760 runs in 21 Tests at an average of 63.04, with all his five hundreds and nine fifties coming from that position. He has also faced the most balls (3699) and scored the most runs (1885) among all batsmen in Test cricket since August 2019.
Khawaja’s advice to Labuschagne
Khawaja, who has opened for Australia in 17 Tests, said that Labuschagne should not change his role and mindset by moving up to open the innings. He said that opening is a different challenge, especially in England where the conditions are more favourable for the bowlers.
“I wouldn’t move Marnus up to open, I think he’s done a fantastic job at No. 3,” Khawaja told ESPNcricinfo. “He’s probably been our best batsman in the last couple of years in Test cricket. Opening is a different ball game, especially in England. You’ve got to face the new ball, you’ve got to face the swing, the seam, it’s a lot harder.”
Khawaja also said that Labuschagne has a good understanding of his game and knows how to adjust to different situations. He said that Labuschagne should not fix something that is not broken and continue to bat at No. 3 where he has been successful.
“He’s got a good game plan, he knows his game really well, he knows how to play in different conditions,” Khawaja said. “He’s done really well in England, he’s done really well in Australia, he’s done really well in India. So I don’t think you need to fix something that’s not broken. I think he should stay at No. 3 and keep doing what he’s doing.”
The options for Australia’s opening slot
With Warner ruled out of the first two Tests against England due to a hamstring injury, Australia have a few options to choose from for the opening slot. The incumbent opener Marcus Harris, who scored a hundred in the warm-up game against England Lions, is likely to retain his place. The other contenders are Will Pucovski, who has recovered from a concussion, and Travis Head, who has opened in domestic cricket.
Khawaja, who last played for Australia in the 2019 Ashes, said that he is not expecting a recall to the Test side, but he is ready to take up any role if given a chance. He said that he has been in good form in domestic cricket, scoring 402 runs in six Sheffield Shield matches at an average of 44.66, with a hundred and three fifties.
“I’m not holding my breath, to be honest. I’m just enjoying my cricket, playing well for Queensland, trying to win games for them,” Khawaja said. “If I do get an opportunity, I’ll be ready to go. I’ve played a lot of cricket, I’ve played in England before, I’ve opened before, I’ve played in the middle order. I’m pretty comfortable wherever they want me to bat.”