Marnus mania falls flat as Aussie bats fail to fire again
A golden duck for Marnus Labuschagne in his first game in front of family in South Africa, was not how the script was supposed to read.
Australia slumped to their second successive ODI loss to bogey team South Africa, with another sub-par performance where they were schooled by century maker Janneman Malan and six-wicket destroyer Lungi Ngidi.
A no-ball on a wicket-taking delivery from Pat Cummins proved costly, but middle-order batting was again the biggest concern for Australia in a comprehensive six-wicket loss.
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The saving grace is it's a Twenty20 World Cup year and ODI cricket is a secondary focus - but Australia has still blown chances to sharpen its continuity as a white ball unit.
Labuschagne had arguably his most forgettable day as an Australian cricketer.
But it mattered little to those in his corner.
Before he walked out to bat, a touching wave of acknowledgement from Marnus to a dozen of his nearest and dearest sitting up in the stands, meant more than runs for the Labuschagne clan who drove five hours for one ball in Bloemfontein.
They reminisced about the five-year-old boy who never sat still. Who dressed in his pads and kit to watch cricket on TV, and who was forever inventing new ways to convince them to throw balls to him in the backyard.
His three cousins wore Australian shirts with 'Labuschagne' on the back, his grandmother, Ainsie, told how she stays up at all hours at home in Rustenberg to watch her beloved Marnus play.
Australia's batting was again disjointed as they stumbled to 271, with Aaron Finch (69) and D'Arcy Short (69) unable to kick-onto the triple figure score that South Africa have been able to nail this series.
Cricket's scriptwriters choose funny times to insert a surprise twist, but Labuschagne's first-baller could not dampen the fairy tale - and the pilgrimage has one more stop, with 50 family members expected for the final ODI in Potchefstroom on Saturday.
"It was crazy. It was very nice, we all ran down and took videos because we don't get to see him much," said aunty, Naudene.
"It was a great feeling to see him, but I think he felt very bad getting out first ball.
"He saw us all. He did a wave when he came out (before he batted)."
'Labuskagne' became 'Laboo-shane' when he moved to Brisbane aged nine, and that's morphed into 'Lasagne' and 'Loose-bus-change' now he's in the Australian dressing room.
But it doesn't bother his family.
"He's Marnus to us," said aunty, Marianne.
"It's not a problem."
Labuschagne might have been long back in the pavilion, but maternal grandmother, Ainsie, beamed with pride.
"It's really a dream come true," she said.
"I'm always watching him at night, the games start at half-past one in the morning and I'm always watching on the cricket app. I watch Queensland games and the Big Bash, too. I watch everything and I take photos of the TV."
Many in Australia doubted Labuschagne had what it took to play Test cricket, with the scepticism lasting long after his debut.
But the family in the stands never had any doubt - albeit they couldn't have imagined then he'd be wearing an Australian shirt instead of a South African one.
"We always thought he was going to make it from the start. We absolutely knew he was going to make it because he had so much dedication but talent as well," said Marianne.
"He used to try everything to get us to throw buckets of balls for him. So he used to try everything to bribe us to throw a bucket of balls.
Naudene is a school teacher who often pauses class to turn on the TV in the classroom when Marnus is batting. He turned up at the school a fortnight ago and brought the house down for the students when he interchanged between Afrikaans and his new Queensland accept.
It's clear Marnus has not changed.
"I remember when a cricket game was on, he would go to his room and he'd get pads, gloves, the helmet, everything. He was 4 or 5, and he'd get everything on and then sit there and watch cricket," said Naudene.
"And then when there was a break, he would run outside and there was a brick wall and he would hit balls against the wall. He did that with rugby as well. There were goalposts at his house and he used to stand there and kick at the posts and play rugby. He was very busy. He was playing cricket constantly in the house."