Marnus Labuschagne hopes Australia can make England melt in the Headingley pressure cooker on Sunday as the tourists seek to retain the Ashes urn.
A third successive half-century from Labuschagne (80) had helped Australia post 246 on Saturday, setting England a mammoth target of 359 – one that seemed all-the-more daunting given they were rolled for 67 first time around.
But the hosts – seeking their highest successful run chase in Test history – reached stumps on day three 156-3 with captain Joe Root unbeaten on 75 having shared a crucial third-wicket stand of 126 with Joe Denly (50).
It sets up a mouth-watering fourth day as England dream of an unlikely success, yet Labuschagne hopes Australia’s bowlers can make them crumble under pressure, particularly with a new ball due after a further eight overs.
“You always find that there’s big partnerships but then there’s one, two, three wickets,” Labuschagne said.
“It can happen very quickly, so that’s why you’ve just got to make sure you shut that scoreboard down, make sure you keep the pressure on, because when you lose one or two wickets all of a sudden the scoreboard can look a lot different if you add two wickets to it.
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“That’ll be what we’re trying to do tomorrow, trying to make sure we’re shutting down the scoreboard and making sure we’re bowling balls in good areas with that new ball.”
One week ago Labuschagne was on the periphery of this series but, thrust into the line-up in the second innings at Lord’s last Sunday as Steve Smith’s concussion replacement, the 25-year-old has quickly become a key cog for a team still shorn of their leading batsman.
While the techniques of England’s batsmen has been criticised following a heavy white-ball schedule, Labuschagne has thrived in the longest format thanks to a productive spell in the County Championship with Glamorgan, for whom he amassed 1,114 runs in 10 first-class games.
“Playing for Glamorgan helped a lot,” he admitted.
“Obviously playing 10 first-class games in probably less than two months was very helpful. Playing against the swinging ball in different conditions – and just learning my game and learning to put big runs on the board – definitely helped me and built my confidence as well.
“Then transitioning to this – I think I didn’t play many other formats leading up to this. My focus was really on red-ball cricket, so the lead up and preparation was really good.”