Ricky Ponting has revealed Marnus Labuschagne was set to be dropped for the Cricket World Cup game against Afghanistan if Steve Smith was fit to play. On commentary during Australia's clash with Bangladesh on Saturday, the former Australian captain revealed that Marcus Stoinis would have preferred over Labuschagne for the previous game against Afghanistan.
“If Steve Smith had passed his fitness test, which he didn’t, then Labuschagne was the one missing out and Stoinis was staying in the side,” Ponting said. “So I think at the moment Australia feel that is their strongest team, without Labuschagne in it."
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Smith ended up missing the game with vertigo and then returned to the side for the game against Bangladesh as Glenn Maxwell was rested. However, now Maxwell is expected to return to the side, someone must miss out on the semi-final against the Proteas at Eden Gardens.
Ponting wants to see Stoinis make way for the South Africa game in Kolkata, arguing that Labuschagne's batting skills and fielding could be the difference between winning and losing. “If you actually look at the numbers through this series, he (Labuschagne) hasn’t done a bad job, second leading run scorer ... and I know the most important phase for Australia through this tournament they haven’t got right yet is their middle order batting," Ponting said.
"They haven’t got that right and they need to fix that quickly. If you’re going to win the World Cup, you’re going to have to fix those overs 11 to 40, because so far in the tournament they’ve lost 12 more wickets in that period of time in the tournament than what India has through the whole tournament, India have only lost 20 wickets through that phase. I probably would (keep Labuschagne). I mean even today we’ve seen Australia have gone to Mitchell Marsh’s bowling before they used Stoinis.”
Shane Watson says Labuschagne should retain his spot
Shane Watson echoed Ponting's sentiment, believing Labuschagne is the right man to deal with the moving ball. The early overs under lights have been consistently the toughest for batsmen at the World Cup but Labuschagne has coped as well as anyone in the difficult conditions.
“He’s someone who has done a very good job for Australia throughout this World Cup, and as well Marcus Stoinis hasn’t set this World Cup alight yet,” Watson said. “What we’ve seen in this World Cup, is if Australia end up batting second in a semi-final, that period with those two new balls swinging around, you do need your best technically equipped batters who can handle that moving ball.
“Marnus Labuschagne, with the Test skills, he’s got the ability to be able to handle a moving ball. There is a chance that Australia will have to bat second under lights, and he’s done a very good job of that throughout this tournament.”
Labuschagne has been involved in 18 consecutive games for Australia dating back to the start of the ODI series in South Africa where he came into the side as a concussion substitute for Cameron Green. As a result of numerous injuries, he has retained his place in the team.
He has averaged 35.75 during the World Cup, but Smith's knock against Bangladesh took his average to 38.28. Tellingly, Smith is striking at 88.74 compared to Labuschagne's 77.08.
Stoinis missed games earlier in the tournament with a calf issue and has only managed scores of 5, 20 not out, 21 and 6. The brutal selection call may come down to whether the Aussies prefer Stonois' bowling or Labuschagne's fielding, which was on full display when he got two sensational run-outs in Saturday's game against Bangladesh.
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