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Cricket World Cup: Labuschagne call signals change of approach

Australia handed Marnus Labuschagne a chance to shine at the World Cup when they announced their final 15-man squad, with the experienced batter replacing injured left-arm spinner Ashton Agar.

It represents the culmination of a classy fightback from Labuschagne, after he was initially omitted from the party for the recent tour of South Africa.

However, Steven Smith was forced to drop out due to an injury of his own and Labuschagne stepped in and impressed enough to earn himself a crack at glory in India, with the World Cup starting early next month.

Labuschagne is 6.00 to be Top Team Batter in the tournament, with Smith priced at 4.00 and David Warner available at 3.00.

What2023 Cricket World Cup
WhereIndia
WhenThursday 5th October - Sunday 19th November, 2023
How to watchKayo, Foxtel
OddsIndia 3.00, England 4.33, Australia 5.50, Pakistan 7.50, South Africa 10.00

Labuschagne forces his way back in

Having been left out of the touring party to take on the Proteas, Labuschagne appeared to be well out of the picture for selection for the World Cup.

However, having been called up to replace Smith, the gritty right-hander showed exactly what he can do straight away, making a crucial 80 not out when acting as a concussion replacement for Cameron Green in the opening ODI in Bloemfontein.

A superb 124 followed in the second one-dayer, also in Bloemfontein, as Australia took a 2-0 lead in the five-match series, only to lose the following three matches to go down 3-2 to South Africa.

Labuschagne, who was showing an attacking intent which may have previously been a little lacking, made 15, 20 and 44 across those three losses, ending the series with 283 runs at an average of 70.75 and a strike-rate of 96.58.

He followed that up with 138 runs at 46 in the three-match series in India, with his 72 in the series finale helping the Aussies gain a consolation win in Rajkot.

Labuschagne’s figures across those two series clearly put his firmly back in the World Cup picture and the fact that key batter Travis Head will miss the start of the tournament due to a fractured hand may also have been a big factor in his selection.

Left-hander Head has been included in the squad for the World Cup, but is certain to miss at least a couple of matches as he recovers from an injury sustained against the Proteas, with Australia 1.28 to reach the semi-finals.

Maxi expected to play major role

As well as being a top-quality batter, Head is also a useful back-up off-spinner and Australia were shorn of a second slow-bowling option when Agar failed to recover from a nagging calf injury.

And, having opted to replace Agar with Labuschagne, Australia have made it crystal clear that Glenn Maxwell - only recently back to fitness after injury problems of his own - will be expected to play a major role at the World Cup with the ball.

The off-spinner, who is of course an explosive middle-order batter as well, has been pencilled in to form a spin partnership with leggie Adam Zampa, with conditions in India likely to make slow bowling crucial for any team wanting to challenge for ultimate glory.

And the way Maxwell will be utilised was signalled by national selector George Bailey, who told reporters: "I think it's unfair on Maxi to say he's not a specialist spinner, you could very much consider him a frontline option.

"We certainly consider that we have two frontline spinners within our first-choice XI."

Maxwell certainly impressed on his return to the fold in the series in India, taking a career-best 4-40 in Rajkot after more than two months out of action due to a leg injury and also being on paternity leave.

The 34-year-old has played in 129 ODIs to date, taking 64 wickets at 47.71, which may not seem all that impressive, but a career economy rate of 5.53 is very decent and shows that Maxwell could be able to be a major player with the ball at the global showpiece.

He is 21.00 to be Top Team Bowler, with Zampa available at 3.50 and captain Pat Cummins priced at 4.00.

With Nathan Lyon obviously ruled out, being joined by both Agar and, initially, Head, a lot of responsibility rests on the shoulders of Maxwell, who appears to have been earmarked for a major role.

He has shown in the past that he can step up to the plate, but the real question is can he deal with the physical challenge after his recent lay-off and what would Australia do if he is unable to do so?

The Baggy Greens will hope that they do not have to wrestle with that conundrum in the coming weeks.

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