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England vs Australia: Marnus Labuschagne’s Test-saving Ashes debut will live long in the memory

Adam Collins

How about Marnus Labuschagne’s Sunday morning? Waking up, having gone to sleep surely reflecting upon what he had seen that day? Out of the XI but knowing there had to be a decent chance Steve Smith would wake up too poorly to play? Knowing he was heading to Lord’s to take part in his first Ashes Test as the first-ever concussion substitute, the Queenslander must have realised what would be waiting for him at some stage on the final afternoon.

How about walking into another Jofra Archer worldly? It’s 34 minutes before tea and the England wunderkind had sorted out Australia’s two most experienced campaigners with 119 Tests between them. They’re done by precision more than pace. Lord’s is hubbub – in that session alone Ben Stokes already struck 64 runs in 53 deliveries to raise a spirited century, England hammering 73 runs in eight overs to set the place alight. In walked Labuschagne of Klerksdorp, right as the tiny-mind brigade howled online that Bajans shouldn’t play for England.

How about that helmet? Archer’s first offering to Labuschagne was so short it was signalled wide but the second was frighteningly accurate. Like the ball that felled Smith, there wasn’t enough time for evasion – it was hitting his head. If not for the bottom rail of the grille, there would have been a man in the middle of the ground with a jaw broken into smithereens. Falling without ever letting his left hand off the blade, he bounced back up just as fast, twisting the handle and chewing his gum to suggest business as usual. It wasn’t, of course.

How about keeping it together? As soon as the team doctor, such a fixture of this weekend, left the field, Archer beat Labuschagne with consecutive gems. He was off the mark with a single in Stuart Broad’s next over, but that only meant a continuation of the worst cross-examination in cricket. The cut shot didn’t work either. To recap: in four legal deliveries between the pair, one hit the helmet and the other three passed the outside edge. But the kid kept his nerve, thrusting forward, holding the pose. Then leaving expertly, just under the limbo stick, watching the ball all the way. He went back and used the crease to finish, connected with soft hands and added four more.

How about having to do it again to get a cup of tea? Labuschagne might have thought he had seen Archer off when Chris Woakes replaced him from the Nursery End. But no, he was immediately back from where he did Saturday’s damage, following Broad. There would be enough time for two overs from him before the interval and he watched the fastest yet from the non-strikers’ end, Cam Bancroft letting a ball hit him on the midriff. Mindful the opener had less of a clue than he did, the younger of the men took one from the final ball of the next over to take ownership; 17 hard-won runs had been earned but 35 overs remained.

How about losing Bancroft in the first over back? The West Australian misread Jack Leach as the wind gusted hard from the Warner Stand corner. Archer would start again with that at his back, down a slope that may very well carry his name by the time he has finished bowling for England at this famous ground. Labuschagne pushed two but twice felt a thud into his thigh across the next two overs. Between times, leaving and defending got marginally easier. A delivery that would have hurt him had he missed it was handily tucked. This was nearly over. Nearly.

How about when Archer said ‘I’ll come around the wicket’? Sure, it was a sign that Labuschagne was winning; the tactics changed. But still: one, two, three, four, five catchers around the bat. Two short legs and a silly point. A leg slip. The punch was telegraphed. Here he bounded in for his 10th over of England’s 21 so far. But in the best traditions of Steve Waugh, the man he would later sit with on the balcony, our subject jumped across his stumps to get right in line with a ball en route for his chest to calmly knock it into the onside for one.

Marnus Labuschagne departs at the end of his crucial innings (AP)

How about saving a Test for your country? It isn’t a stretch to say that Labuschagne did, using the time Archer was out of the attack to arrive at his second Test half-century. His chief nemesis was back soon after that but by now, he knew he could handle it and did. From his 100th ball in the middle, a deflected sweep from Leach’s spin saw his back (and started a collapse) but in those 100 moments, he proved a lot more about himself than what numbers in spreadsheets can and earned the respect of everyone in attendance.

How about that for a day’s work?