By: Chinmay Vaidya
Death, taxes and Australian middle-order batsmen. Just when it seems like one is fading, another steps up to take his place. From Mark Waugh, Steve Waugh and Michael Hussey to Michael Clarke, George Bailey and Steven Smith, Australia's middle order is always a force to be reckoned with. At the 2019 World Cup, however, Australia failed to capture its middle order magic in key situations en route to a semifinal exit.
Enter Marnus Labuschagne, Australia's next great middle-order batsman.
At least for the time being. After Labuschagne dispatched Pakistan and New Zealand in a home Test summer which saw him rack up a double hundred, four centuries and three half-centuries, it's hard not to see him as a future stars in limited overs cricket. Add to the fact his desire to master all formats of the game and you've got the makings of a true superstar. But how does Labuschagne's start in Tests compare to recent Aussie greats?
Here's how Labuschagne and four other Australian batsmen fared in their first 14 Test matches, respectively. The batsmen selected have not only demonstrated strong production across multiple formats of the game, but also fit closest to the era of cricket Labuschagne will be entering.
Marnus Labuschagne: 23 innings, 1,459 runs, 4 100s, 8 50s, 63.43 true average, 215 highest score
Ricky Ponting: 22 innings, 889 runs, 2 100s, 5 50s, 40.41 true average, 127 highest score
Michael Clarke: 21 innings, 841 runs, 2 100s, 3 50s, 40.04 true average, 151 highest score
Michael Hussey: 24 innings, 1,554 runs, 5 100s, 8 50s, 64. 75 true average, 182 highest score
Steven Smith: 28 innings, 825 runs, 1 100, 5 50s, 29.46 true average, 138 highest score
Labuschagne and Hussey got off to flying stars in their Test careers while Smith was still slogging as an all-rounder before blossoming as a batting superstar. Ponting and Clarke were strong, but not spectacular. To get a better idea of how reflective these early numbers were of each player's career, let's dive into conversion rates for centuries and half-centuries. Here are the same 5 batsmen's century and half-century combined conversion rates in their first 14 Test matches.
Labuschagne: 52 percent
Ponting: 32 percent
Clarke: 33 percent
Hussey: 54 percent
Smith: 21 percent
Now compare those numbers with their overall Test combined conversion rates.
Ponting: 36 percent
Clarke: 28 percent
Hussey: 35 percent
Smith: 42 percent
Smith has absolutely taken off since his early career while Hussey and Clarke slowed down significantly in making big scores. Ponting stayed relatively consistent over the course of his career. Now let's look at these players' ODI combined conversion rates. Labuschagne hasn't played in an ODI yet, but his Test start can still help us get an idea of how he'll look as a one-day player.
Ponting: 31 percent
Clarke: 30 percent
Hussey: 27 percent
Smith: 30 percent
The average change in combined conversion rate from Tests to ODIs for the four players is 6.75. If we eliminate Smith, who is a somewhat rare case in this scenario, the average change drops to 5. Take out Hussey, a mercurial middle-order player in the limited overs format, and the average change sinks to 3.5. If Smith had played in his current role for his whole career, it's likely his conversion rate would fall somewhere in line with Clarke's and Ponting's in terms of average change.
Labuschagne obviously isn't going to keep up his ridiculous home summer over the long run. The question is whether his game will ultimately translate to the limited overs format and his combined conversion rate will be a good indicator of that. He might be a streaky player like Hussey or a consistent rock like Smith, Clarke and Ponting. Either way, Australia's next middle-order star looks to be here.