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How to not anchor in ODIs ft. Smith and Labuschagne

Last updated on 18 Nov 2023 | 04:55 AM
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How to not anchor in ODIs ft. Smith and Labuschagne

The two of them combined haven’t scored as many runs as Virat Kohli in the 2023 World Cup

The second semi-final of the 2023 World Cup between Australia and South Africa wouldn’t have gotten that close if even one of Steven Smith or Marnus Labuschagne had done their job. The two red-ball superstars couldn’t have asked for a better scenario to tell everyone what they bring to the table in the 50-over format, but all they did was make things unnecessarily difficult for their team in the all-important encounter.

First, let us tell you what the scenario was. Australia were set a target of 213 on a tricky Eden Gardens surface but had already raced past 100 inside 14 overs. Travis Head and David Warner had slammed 91 runs between them off just 66 deliveries, leaving 107 to get from 35.5 overs. That’s a required rate of 3, and Australia had seven wickets remaining.

Smith and Labuschagne should ideally be eating these run-chases for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It won’t be wrong to call them ‘anchors’, and this was exactly the type of run-chase they should have owned and got their team home. They had all the time in the world but had a brain fade and got out playing irresponsible shots.

The two joined hands when Head got out to Keshav Maharaj on the first delivery of the 15th over. Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi were bowling in tandem, and the ball was stopping and turning off the surface. Smith and Labuschagne were rightly defensive with their approach and got 24 runs in the next six overs, still going at more than what was required.

However, just when Australia were starting to get comfortable in the run-chase, Labuschagne tried to reverse-sweep Shamsi and got hit on the pad right in front of the stumps. The 29-year-old was dejected with the shot he played, allowing the Proteas to come back in the game. The onus was now on Smith to stay calm and finish the job; however, even he left the team in dire straits.

To Smith’s credit, the 34-year-old tried his best and survived at the crease for more than 60 deliveries. Glenn Maxwell was always going to find it difficult to score runs on this surface, but Josh Inglis showed tremendous determination to put on 37 runs with Smith for the sixth wicket. The two were Australia’s last recognised batting pair and things started to get easier once Temba Bavuma brought his pacers into the attack.

Australia only needed 39 runs and that’s when Smith decided to play an uncharacteristic heave off Gerald Coetzee’s bowling and was caught by Quinton de Kock. The problem is not that they got out but how they got out. Captain Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc got Australia over the line in the 48th over to confirm a date with India in the grand finale on Sunday (November 19), but that doesn’t hide the mistakes committed by their two ‘reliable’ batters.

Also read - Put some respect on Pat Cummins the captain’s name

Australia are set to make their eighth final appearance and have achieved that despite Smith and Labuschagne being mediocre with the bat. Now, we are not comparing either of them with Virat Kohli, but both Smith and Labuschagne were expected to play a similar role for Australia what Kohli has been doing for India.

Now, if you compare their numbers, Kohli has amassed more runs than what Smith and Labuschagne have scored together. While the King has eight 50-plus scores in 10 innings, the two Australian batters have managed only four fifties across 18 innings in this World Cup. 

The likes of Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill and Shreyas Iyer have all batted at a strike rate of more than 100 around Kohli, something that Head, Warner, Mitchell Marsh and Maxwell have done too. Howbeit, Australia haven’t got enough runs from their anchors. Their lack of runs haven’t hurt Australia, but that might not be the case against India. 

The Men in Blue have the best bowling attack in the tournament and were able to dismiss Australia for just 199 in the first game. There is a high possibility that India’s formidable pace attack could get a couple of early wickets with the new ball, something that they have been doing throughout the competition, and that’s when Australia will need Smith and Labuschagne to step up, and also dominate in the middle overs against Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja.

Smith needs to convert his starts into big scores

This has been Smith’s biggest problem in this World Cup. The right-hander has touched the 30-run mark in five out of nine innings but not once has been able to convert it into a century. Even the two fifties he has scored have come against the Netherlands and Bangladesh. He is putting in the hard yards and is then getting out.

Smith, who is known to be Australia’s best batter of spin bowling, has been dismissed by spin on five occasions in this WC. From 2022 to before the start of the showpiece event, Smith had an average of 102.7 and a strike rate of 90 against spin. However, those numbers have dropped to 27.4 and 78 in this event. 

Smith hasn’t been able to score freely in the middle overs (11-40). Amongst batters who have faced at least 250 deliveries in this phase, Smith has the fourth-worst strike rate (77.2) and balls/boundary (15.9). Who’s fifth on the list? It is Labuschagne, with a strike rate of 79.9 and balls/boundary of 13.8. Them batting together hasn’t really worked out for Australia - and hasn't solved their problem either.

Amongst pairs who have faced at least 200 deliveries together in this competition, Smith and Labuschagne have the worst strike rate (72.2) batting together. When they batted together against India in their first match of the event, the two put on a stand of 36 runs off 68 deliveries. They played out a lot of deliveries, and when the time came to capitalise, both got out in quick succession.

One good thing about Smith is his superb record against India. He has six fifties and five tons in 24 innings against India. This is the only opponent against whom Smith has an average (54.4) of more than 50 in ODIs. Then there is his record in ICC ODI knockouts - 341 runs in five innings @ 85.3. His knock of 30 against South Africa in Kolkata was the first time he didn’t get a 50-plus score in a knockout game.

Labuschagne is in the same boat

The 29-year-old too, has had trouble converting starts. In only one innings, he has faced less than 25 deliveries and still only has two fifties. What’s more, Labuschagne has operated at a strike rate of less than 70 in seven out of nine innings. His 71 off 83 against England is probably his only game-changing knock. 

He has gone at a strike rate of just 55.8 in his first 20 deliveries, which is the third-worst in this tournament after Rassie van der Dussen (48.3) and Hashmatullah Shahidi (52.7) - a minimum of nine innings. The latter two, however, have an average of close to 50, while Labuschagne has managed 304 runs @ 33.77. And all this after averaging 51.56 at a strike rate of 93.2 in 11 ODIs before the World Cup.

Things could get even more difficult for Labuschagne in Ahmedabad with Jadeja and Kuldeep in the mix. He has gotten out to left-arm spin thrice and has a strike rate of just 63 in this WC. Against left-arm wrist-spin, Labuschagne has an average of 18.5 in ODIs this year. 


But again, it’s a matter of one game, the game, and if Smith and Labuschagne manage to find a way to propel Australia to their sixth title, all these numbers won’t matter. Remember, Smith’s only hundred in ICC World Cup knockouts came against India in 2015. Remember, Labuschagne’s best knock of this event came at this exact venue. They might not have made their presence felt yet, but it could all change on Sunday in front of more than 1,30,000 people.

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