SYDNEY, Jan 4 (Reuters) - Steve Smith has set some pretty lofty standards for Australian batting in recent years but Marnus Labuschagne’s exploits in the five home tests this season now bear comparison, especially after he broke a 67-year-old scoring record on Saturday.
The effervescent 25-year-old, born in South Africa but raised from the age of 10 in Queensland, made his debut against Pakistan in October 2018 and impressed with four half centuries in last year’s Ashes series in England.
Since he first took guard against Pakistan again in Perth in November, though, he has enjoyed a purple patch of form that few other batsmen have rivalled.
After scoring 215 to drive Australia to 454 in the third test against New Zealand on Saturday, Labuschagne has now scored a double century, two 150s, one century and two half centuries in his last seven innings.
The knock took him to 837 runs at an average of 199.57 for the home season, bettering the 834 Australian batting great Neil Harvey tallied in a five-match series against South Africa in 1952-53.
“Obviously that’s very special going past a player of that calibre,” said Labuschagne.
“I haven’t really had a chance to stop and reflect on the summer that I have had. Looking at it, it has been a very special summer but the real privilege is playing in this team.
“You’re not just playing for yourself you’re playing for a team that is really enjoyable to be a part of.”
Only Harvey, England’s Wally Hammond and the great Don Bradman have ever scored in excess of 800 runs over a five-test Australian summer.
Bradman did it twice and he alone now stands above Labuschagne in the list of career averages for those batsmen who have played at least 20 innings.
There is, of course, daylight between the 99.94 Bradman famously finished on and Labuschagne’s current 63.63. Smith is now relegated to third on the list on 62.84.
Labuschagne will face tougher assignments overseas and much tougher opposition than Pakistan and a New Zealand side ravaged by illness and injury but he has already shown remarkable maturity for a batsman with only 14 tests under his belt.
“I think he’s just very good at absorbing pressure and keeping ticking away,” said New Zealand spinner Todd Astle, who dismissed Labuschagne caught and bowled on Saturday with the 363rd delivery the Australian faced.
“It’s amazing how he’s able to keep up that momentum.” (Editing by Christian Schmollinger)