Labuschagne puts selectors in a spin over all-rounder slot
MARNUS Labuschagne's performances with the ball against Pakistan are set to create a headache Australian selectors never thought they'd have.
The 24-year-old earned his Test debut last week as a batsman, only to emerge as a handy all-rounder with his part-time leg-spin.
Meanwhile, Australia's designated all-rounder, Mitch Marsh, has seen his bowling responsibilities dwindle by the year.
Marsh has only bowled on average seven overs per innings in the past 12 months, in which he has played nine Tests. He has claimed five wickets at 72 in that period, with an economy rate of 3.95.
In the 12 months prior, he bowled on average 9.25 overs per innings (two at 53). He bowled on average 8.7 overs per innings (18 at 37.11) in the year preceding that.
Marsh has only completed 17 overs in this series against Pakistan (5.67 per innings), taking figures of 1-59. Although, the slow and low decks of the UAE dictate that spin bowling take precedence.
That has allowed Labuschagne to complete 23 overs this series. He has figures of 5-83.
Australia has long favoured a fast bowling all-rounder to bolster its pace attack. Before Marsh, Shane Watson regularly filled the role between 2008 and 2015. It's a trend that will likely continue on the fast, bouncing strips of Australia this summer.
But if Labuschagne took over the responsibility, it would allow Australia to strengthen its troubled batting order with the inclusion of either Matthew Renshaw or - once back from suspension - Cameron Bancroft.
What's arguably been most impressive about Labuschagne's bowling is the timing of his wickets. Labuschagne was responsible for ending a 147-run stand between Fakhar Zaman and Sarfraz Ahmed in the second Test on Tuesday night.
He trapped Zaman in front on 94 before taking another key wicket - dismissing Ahmed, also for 94. Pakistan were all out for 282, with Labuschagne ending the innings on 3-45.
The Queenslander also ended a 150-run stand between Asad Shafiq and Haris Sohail in the first Test.
The right-hander earned his Test call-up after an impressive Sheffield Shield season with the Queensland Bulls. He was the competition's second-highest scorer, making 795 runs at 39.75.
The season took his first-class run tally to 2199 at 33.83. Marsh has 4381 runs at a slightly lower average of 31.97.
Marsh - who was recently appointed as joint Test vice-captain - batted for Australia for the first time ever at No.4 in Dubai.
He was dismissed for 12 in the first innings, before falling for a duck in the second - moments after his brother Shaun suffered the same fate.
Labuschagne, however, was not much better. He made scores of zero and 13 batting at No.6.
Nonetheless, the South African-born batsman has proven himself to be an offbeat option for Australia's all-rounder slot.
THE OTHER GUYS
Also in contention is off-spinner Ashton Agar, although the 25-year-old was overlooked for both Tests in the UAE. His first-class batting average is less than 26, while he only managed 26 runs in a four-day match against India A last month.
Glenn Maxwell is also in the picture, averaging 41.07 with the bat in first-class cricket, and taking 60 wickets at 44.18. Most recently, he helped Victoria win the domestic One-Day Cup with 196 runs (at 28) and three wickets (at 55.33).
Maxwell was former selector Mark Waugh's pick for the Pakistan series, singling him out during the first Test as the one available batsman who could have made a difference.
"It's tough because we lost our two best batsman (Steve Smith and David Warner), three including Bancroft," Waugh said on Fox Cricket during the Test.
"I don't think there's many players there that would make a big difference. The only player I would have picked that is not there is Glenn Maxwell.
"He's a guy with ability, can change the game, he's a good player of spin, he can actually take the attack to the bowling side."