Welsh government regulations allow Labuschagne to play against Kent this week while quarantining
When Marnus Labuschagne arrived in Cardiff in 2019, he had made five Test appearances and was by no means guaranteed to play another: he averaged 26.25, had batted in five different positions, and had only played while David Warner and Steven Smith were banned. Ahead of his early-season stint with Glamorgan, few Division Two seamers were losing sleep over the prospect of bowling to him.
Two years later, everything has changed. Labuschagne averages a shade above 60 in Tests, and is ranked as the third-best batter in the format by the ICC. County analysts and bowling coaches are scrambling to find plans as to how they can get him out, and on the back of hundreds in his last two first-class innings – including 192 in the Sheffield Shield final – he appears to be in the form of his life.
Labuschagne has pinpointed that spell with Glamorgan as a “turning point” in his career that few saw coming. He made technical adjustments with Matthew Maynard, the club’s head coach, that helped him open up the leg side, and benefited from the opportunity to play a higher volume of cricket than had been available to him for Queensland; in 10 County Championship fixtures, he made 1114 runs at 65.52.
“That stint at Glamorgan certainly helped me, and meant that when I got an opportunity, I was in form and I was batting well,” Labuschagne said on Wednesday, in a virtual press conference before his first appearance of the season against Kent. “The last time I was here I played pretty well but I think I can add more value to the team, and get better as a player each game – keep trying to grow as a player, not just in Australian conditions but in conditions that aren’t as familiar to myself.
“You need to come in prepared and your game needs to adapt. You need to understand the conditions, the bowling, and what changes you’ll make to your own game to be successful and find ways to do well. You need to be prepared to change, and not get caught in trying to play one way. That’s what I enjoy most about the game: finding ways to keep performing even if you’re not feeling that good for whatever reason.”
The high regard in which Australians hold county cricket is evident from Labuschagne highlighting the challenge of playing against Division One sides this season. The re-jigged Championship format means that four out of Glamorgan’s five opponents in Group Three should have been playing Division One cricket last year before the pandemic, meaning a higher calibre of opposition than he faced in 2019. He is likely to come up against James Anderson next week, and may have the chance to face Sussex’s Ollie Robinson later in the season, too.
“The way the Championship is set up this year with three groups, four of the six teams in our group are Division One teams which is a really nice challenge,” he said, “being able to challenge yourself at a different level and with different skills required in these conditions.
“It’s a real plus being able to play in swinging conditions, and obviously the English bowlers will be coming out this summer to Australia and playing over there [so] the potential to play against them in the County Championship is obviously a really good challenge. If you’re playing Jimmy Anderson now, it’s a challenge in these conditions, but when he comes to Australia, it gives me a look at him a bit earlier, which is the positive.”
Labuschagne’s availability this week is due to a discrepancy in Covid regulations between the English and Welsh governments. While other Australians – including Billy Stanlake, Labuschagne’s Queensland team-mate – are unable to leave quarantine, Labuschagne is allowed to for the purposes of “elite sport” under Wales’ restrictions, though cannot yet go out for dinner, for example. Michael Neser, Glamorgan’s other overseas signing and another of Labsuchagne’s Queensland team-mates, will not debut until next week as the club look to manage his bowling workload, while Andy Balbirnie has returned to Ireland after deputising for Labuschagne.
Glamorgan are not yet certain how much they will see of Labuschagne, with Australia due to tour the Caribbean and, potentially, Bangladesh later in the year for limited-overs series. His contract covers all formats and runs until the end of next season, and he admitted he is keen to play as much of the T20 Blast as possible, having played only 16 matches in his T20 career to date.
“The potential to play 14 Blast games – which is almost double what I’ve played in my career – is exciting because that’s a part of my game that I haven’t had much of an opportunity to develop,” he said. “It’s a completely different format but the approach is still a thought-out one. I definitely want to play for Australia in all formats, but it’s hard to make a case to play T20 cricket for Australia on the back of 14  career games.”
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98