Melbourne: Marnus Labuschagne has cemented his position at the No. 3 slot in Australia’s Test team after amassing 1,103 runs with an average of 58.05, which includes three centuries in his past three Tests. Hosts Australia will take on New Zealand at the historic Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in the second Test of the three-match rubber from Thursday and Labuschagne has the chance to join an elite list of Australian players.
If Labuschagne, 25, manages to slam a ton at the MCG, he will join an elite list of Aussie cricketers, who have scored a century in four consecutive innings.
While the legendary Don Bradman did it thrice, Jack Fingleton (1936), Neil Harvey (1949-50), Matthew Hayden (2001-02 and 2005) and Steve Smith (2014-15) are the other Australians to have slammed centuries in four straight Tests.
Earlier, the Kiwis had struggled against Labuschagne in the first Test at Perth, where he came up with scores of 143 and 50 as the hosts registered a mammoth 296-run victory to take a 1-0 lead in the rubber.
Labuschagne had slammed his first ton in the longest format of the game last month and there has been no looking back since then.
Australia could play five specialist bowlers in the second Test, captain Tim Paine hinted, with the decision being left until the last moment.
The Melbourne Cricket Ground track has been lifeless during the past two Boxing Day Tests, making it hard to take 20 wickets, although a Sheffield Shield match there this month was abandoned due to a dangerous pitch.
With this in mind, Paine said a decision would only be made after a late inspection.
But one scenario could be a five-pronged attack, in which Queensland seamer Michael Neser likely makes his debut.
“We’ll find out tomorrow. The wicket is a bit unknown … but we’ve got a plan in place for both scenarios [with five bowlers or without],” Paine told reporters on Wednesday.
“We’ve probably got two different teams [in mind], to be honest, so we’ll make the final call tomorrow.”
Australia traditionally play only four frontline bowlers — three quicks and spinner.
According to Cricket Australia, they have only fielded five once before in the past decade — at the 2013 Sydney Test against Sri Lanka.
If they go down this route on Thursday, Neser is set to line up alongside Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon, with James Pattinson replacing the injured Josh Hazlewood.
Travis Head is expected to be the fall guy, with wicketkeeper Paine moving up the batting order to six.
“Our batting team has been scoring a lot of runs so if we were to go one more bowler, we would be comfortable they could do the job,” said Paine.
“The bowlers we would be bringing in can all bat so while we’re taking a batter out, we’re probably lengthening our line-up.”