Marnus Labuschagne has won the selection battle with Marcus Stoinis for a place in Australia's XI for their semi-final clash with South Africa at the World Cup. With Glenn Maxwell returning after being rested for the last game of the group stage against Bangladesh, the Aussies had a fully-fit squad to choose from.
It meant Labuschagne and Stoinis were vying for one spot, and the Aussies went with the extra batting that Labuschagne provides. Former Test captains Ricky Ponting and Tim Paine had both called for Stoinis to make way.
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“If you actually look at the numbers through this series, (Labuschagne) hasn’t done a bad job, second leading run scorer ... and I know the most important phase for Australia through this tournament they haven’t got right yet is their middle order batting," Ponting said during the Bangladesh game.
"They haven’t got that right and they need to fix that quickly. If you’re going to win the World Cup, you’re going to have to fix those overs 11 to 40, because so far in the tournament they’ve lost 12 more wickets in that period of time in the tournament than what India has through the whole tournament, India have only lost 20 wickets through that phase. I probably would (keep Labuschagne). I mean even today we’ve seen Australia have gone to Mitchell Marsh’s bowling before they used Stoinis.”
Paine said: "The only way I'm playing Marcus Stoinis ahead of Marnus is if we use him in a new ball role. If we don't, I'm taking the batting every day of the week. If we lose the toss at Eden Gardens, it looks like that wicket has worn and it has been difficult to bat on.
“The reason I would have had Marnus Labuschagne in our World Cup squad is because of this moment. If it spins, you need skill. If we're chasing in the second innings and they've got three spinners, we need a guy who averages 60 in Test cricket. He's got the ability to handle that type of bowling and that type of pressure. If Stoinis isn't going to use the new ball for a couple of overs and he's only bowled something like 19 overs for the World Cup, then I'm going to go with Marnus ahead of him and bring Maxwell in.”
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Aussie captain Pat Cummins hinted that they would go with Labuschagne when he pointed out how dry the pitch looked on the eve of the match. Labuschagne is more adept at playing spin than Stoinis.
"It does look like it's probably going to spin a bit more than some of the other wickets – which is the same for both teams," he told reporters. "It might just be a slightly different paced game, but I think it's still pretty evenly matched."
There had been suggestions that a reduced-overs game - if rain is to come on Thursday - could play into the hands of Stoinis, due to his explosive hitting ability as opposed to the more steady runs of Labuschagne. But coach Andrew McDonald said the weather wouldn't be considered in Australia's selection dilemma for the semi-final.
"We keep it really simple, it's really hard to plan for weather," McDonald said on SEN radio. "We go about picking our side with the whole 50 overs in mind on the first day. I don't think we get too far ahead of ourselves or overthink it. Pick the best team for the conditions against the South African opponent and go from there and see what unfolds."
The Aussies lost the toss and bowled first in Kolkata. South Africa captain Temba Bavuma was cleared of a hamstring injury and deemed fit to play, while the Proteas went with a second spinner in Tabraiz Shamsi and left out quick Lungi Ngidi.
AUSTRALIA XI: Travis Head, David Warner, Mitch Marsh, Steve Smith, Marnus Labuschagne, Josh Inglis, Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins (capt), Adam Zampa, Josh Hazlewood.
SOUTH AFRICA XI: Quinton de Kock, Temba Bavuma (capt), Rassie van der Dussen, Aiden Markram, Heinrich Klaasen, David Miller, Marco Jansen, Keshav Maharaj, Gerald Coetzee, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi.
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