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Labuschagne vaults into World Cup squad at last gasp

Marnus Labuschagne has been drafted into Australia’s World Cup plans at the last possible moment, following an overnight victory over India in Rajkot that convinced the selectors they could find room for him as well as the recovering Travis Head.

In a clear departure from plans flagged for some months, Labuschagne will stay in India as part of the World Cup 15 after a spot was vacated by Ashton Agar as he has failed to recover quickly enough from a calf problem. The Cup squad will be formally unveiled later on Thursday.

Marnus Labuschagne made 72 off 58 balls in Rajkot.

Marnus Labuschagne made 72 off 58 balls in Rajkot.Credit: Getty

While Agar’s spot might otherwise have been filled by a second specialist spin bowler to partner Adam Zampa, the panel have reasoned that Glenn Maxwell’s off-breaks are capable of shouldering that load after he claimed a meritorious 4-40 in his first game back.

Maxwell spun out Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Shreyas Iyer after also claiming the left-hander Washington Sundar, who was well caught at long off by none other than Labuschagne after India had made a freewheeling start to their chase.

Labuschagne made 421 runs at an average of 60.14 and a strike rate of 97.67 across eight games against South Africa and India to be clearly Australia’s best performer in a side that was often well below full strength. He may not have played much at all had Cameron Green not been concussed in the opening game against the Proteas.

Tanveer Sangha, who bowled creditably alongside Maxwell in the final game, will remain in India as a travelling reserve, alongside Matt Short and Michael Neser, with the selectors’ preferring to play one wrist spinner in the XI rather than two.

None of Matt Kuhneman, Todd Murphy or Nathan Lyon – himself in the final stages of his recuperation from a calf tear during the Ashes – were deemed the right option as a second spin bowler.

As he has done through the past eight games, Labuschagne did everything possible to find a way into the squad, carving out a proactive but composed 72 from 58 balls to ensure Australia’s platform – provided by David Warner, Mitchell Marsh and Steve Smith – was not totally squandered as conditions slowed.

He will play a vital role in the tournament particularly in early games as Head works through the latter stages of his return from a fractured hand suffered in South Africa.

Labuschagne’s sheer fitness and durability also shone through in Rajkot, as Marsh and Smith struggled noticeably with temperatures nearing 40C and sapping humidity. Having made 96, Marsh did not field for any of India’s innings.

With Head not expected to be available before the last week of October, Warner can expect to be partnered by Marsh at the top of the order, with Smith and Labuschagne at three and four as they appeared in Rajkot.

“Marnus is always ringing in my head, 24 hours,” captain Pat Cummins said before the India series. “He was our best batter in South Africa. Not only batting-wise, his intent was excellent there in South Africa. I am sure he will get his chance in three games and push for his spot.”

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