Labuschagne confident of finding form by batting more and more

Marnus Labuschagne works the ball leg-side Getty Images

It's no secret that Marnus Labuschagne does not like to sit still. The Australia and New Zealand teams were welcomed to Wellington at an official reception at Premier House on Monday evening and while the New Zealand Prime Minister gave a brief address, Labuschagne's hands were twitching.

The moment it was done most of the guests began to mingle with drinks and hors d'oeuvres in the Premier House garden. But Labuschagne headed straight for the cricket pitch that had been cut into the lawn, with plastic stumps, a bat, and a ball lying in wait, and played an impromptu game with a group of Wellington school cricketers who had been invited to the reception.

Labuschagne loves to play cricket and never wants to stop.

But coming off one his leanest home summers, after a 14-month period where he had averaged just 33.58, there was a school of thought that perhaps he could use a break.

For 14 months he has been stewing, tinkering, and fine-tuning day and night as Test bowlers the world over have begun to work him out in all conditions. His antidote to his lower output in Test cricket has been more net time and to play more.

Australia's successful batters in the same period have gone the other way. Usman Khawaja, the ICC Test player of the year, has missed four Sheffield Shield games this summer to remain fresh for Test cricket and has not played a single match since Australia's last Test in late January.

Mitchell Marsh rested from the ODI series against West Indies. Travis Head ended up doing the same after realising he was mentally and physically fried. Previously in 2023, Head went two months without picking up a bat in the lead-up to his WTC final heroics and then had a month-long injury-enforced break from batting before his heroics in the ODI World Cup.

But that's not how Labuschagne operates. After a Test series against West Indies where he made 10, 1*, 3 and 5 and was twice squared up fending at balls well wide of his off stump, he could have easily taken a break to recharge. Instead, he played and captained a Marsh Cup and a Sheffield Shield game for Queensland where he made scores of 74, 38 and 45.

He maintains he can handle the workload and is not concerned about mental burnout or paralysis by analysis.

"Obviously it wasn't the ideal summer for me personally," Labuschagne told ESPNcricinfo. "I thought I played well against Pakistan. I didn't get that big score but we played in some trickier conditions. I thought I batted well at the MCG. Batted well at the SCG in both innings and then I had three hits really and one ball in the second innings in Adelaide [against West Indies].

"I think it's one of those series that, it's over so quick and you're kind of like, geez, well, you've got to move on.

"Obviously it wasn't ideal. I'd have liked some more runs against West Indies. But sometimes it just doesn't happen and I think for me I'm always going to go away and go, okay, how can I improve? What things do I need to get better at and how am I going to do that? What does that look like for me?

"I think I've obviously done that. Hence why I played the Shield game. I worked on a few things after the one-day series, just a few things I wanted to make sure I was doing better for red-ball cricket, and that's where Adelaide went really well.

"I had the opportunity in three hits to find that. Played on pretty much a nipper in the [Marsh Cup] game and then the Shield game was just the same.

"It was a real good test for my technique and how I was feeling, how it was going and I felt like I really had good feel and rhythm and I made really good decisions. So it felt like I was back to playing how I should be.

"I think maybe when I'm 37 you might have a slightly different look on how many games you're playing. But I'm 29, I love playing the game and I've gone back to play for Queensland and I find it mutually beneficial for myself to have got time in the middle rather than stewing over some technical stuff at training for a week, to go out there and have to get in the contest have to try and win a game for Queensland and that's really helped me as well."

Labuschagne arrives in New Zealand with a point to prove. His overseas record remains a source of frustration, but he knows he has the game. Looking across the Basin Reserve reminded him of the various county grounds he has visited over many years of success at Glamorgan.

He has had success against New Zealand too, plundering 549 runs at 91.50 including a double-century and a 143 in the 2019-20 series at home.

He has dug into some of that footage to try to fix some of the issues he has had recently. But he's also pragmatic enough to not put too much stock in it.

"I think you've also got to be careful going back because I would say that I'm a better player now than I was in 2019 regardless of the runs that I made," Labuschagne said. "You want to make sure you're evolving forward and not just looking back trying to find something that you did once when you were good. I think it's easy to look at somewhere like 2019 when we played New Zealand and scored heaps of runs but teams also didn't know anything about me. They didn't know my strengths, my weaknesses. So you've got a lot more scoring options.

"I found a few good things that I think I did really well from technical space back then. But also I'm not trying to chop and change too much. I think it was just a few small things and then just for me just understanding my game and playing towards that."

Labuschagne knows his technique will be examined by Tim Southee, Matt Henry and William O'Rourke on a Basin pitch that looks as green as the outfield two days out. But he knows he can't be thinking about his technique when they are running in at him.

"It's fine to be thinking about that the day before but when you're in the game, you need to be in the contest," Labuschagne said.

"You need to be thinking about the other end. I think that's always a good way to put it. You want to be thinking what the bowler is doing. How the bowler is going to bowl here, where's he going to miss? How am I going to counter that? I think when I'm in that sort of headspace, that's when I'm playing at my best."

There he was Tuesday morning with bat in hand, just as he was on Monday night, this time facing Michael Neser with a brand-new Kookaburra in the Basin nets, facing Nathan Lyon, facing endless throws from Andrew McDonald and Michael Di Venuto, and loving every minute of it.