Labuschagne’s long road to the top
The exhilarating moment Marnus Labuschagne found out he would be an Ashes tourist contained a small theatrical twist which helped explain why he was there in the first place.
Labuschagne, who sealed his case for the tour earlier this year with five centuries in a guest stint with English county Glamorgan, walked nervously into a hotel room in Southampton where he sat face-to-face with selection chairman Trevor Hohns. He was there to learn his short-term fate.
With the sort of straight-faced sobriety that hinted there may be deflating news ahead, Hohns asked "are Glamorgan playing tonight?''
"Funnily enough,'' replied Labuschagne, "I have just spoken to Glamorgan's director of cricket and he said we are playing tonight in Cardiff and if I am not in the Ashes squad he will drive down and pick me up and I will play for them in the T20 game.''
But just as Labuschagne offered to pack up his shackles and hit the road the good news floated down from the heavens. Hohns snapped the tension with the line Labuschagne will never forget.
"You can tell Glamorgan you are not going to be there because you are in the Ashes squad,'' Hohns said.
Boom. He'd made it.
The little gee-up raised smiles all around but it would not have been lost on the chairman that had Labuschagne missed out on the Ashes squad there were no plans for a whining wake.
Operation Fightback would have been launched in a minute or two and, in that man on a mission walk of his, Labuschagne would simply have marched off to his next challenge.
This, in essence, is the story of Labuschagne's cricket journey.
You knock him down and he will just keep coming … again and again, learning, listening, chiselling, exhaustingly refining a game which made him the surprise packet of the Ashes tour and one of the first batsmen chosen for Thursday's first Test against Pakistan at the Gabba.
But, as former schoolmate and Queensland Bulls captain Jimmy Peirson points out, he was never considered The Chosen One and often was not chosen at all.
"They used to say he was not strong enough or big enough or scored his runs fast enough … his setbacks built resilience,'' Peirson said.
THE LITTLE GUY
YOU have heard of the two-stroke engine. Labuschagne well remembers the years he was a two-stroke batsman quietly nibbling and nudging along in fifth grade club cricket at Redlands in his mid-teens.
"I was very small when I was a kid and not very strong. The only two shots I could play were the late cut and the flick off my legs to fine leg. I just used the pace," he said.
"That was the story of my whole cricket journey. I was never the most talented player. I was the most hardworking player going through the age groups. Being small taught me a lot of great skills such as how to use the pace of the ball, how to play fast bowling by touch and not by power.''
THE KLERKSDORP KID
LABUSCHAGNE'S sporting instincts were hard-baked early in one of the world's great sports refineries - South Africa.
Like famous human rights activist Desmond Tutu, he was born in the city of Klerksdorp, where Australian and New Zealand soldiers fought on horse back in the Boer War more than a century ago.
"As a young kid growing up in South Africa you play contact sport from a very young age. We were playing full field rugby since I was in grade three.
"I loved being in the contest. I was the kid who wanted to kick field goals. I wanted to kick off the tee and make sure I got the conversion. I loved being THAT kid.''
Labuschagne's father, Andre, who has worked in the mining industry for several decades and has been a high-ranked executive in several gold companies, moved his family to Brisbane 16 years ago when Marnus was an Afrikaans-speaking primary school student challenged by the local lingo.
"WHEN I first arrived I remember in school it was the simple things that I could not understand - when they said take your rubber and ruler out I had no idea what they were saying," he said.
"We left South Africa in 2003. It was a big decision for us because Australia and South Africa were big sporting rivals and it was just after Australia won the 2003 cricket World Cup in South Africa and they had just lost the rugby World Cup to England. That was my last memory of life in South Africa - watching the final of the 2003 Rugby World Cup.
"My first sporting heroes were South African. I loved Jacques Kallis and Shaun Pollock. I watched them until I was 10 so it was a big decision for a young kid to suddenly think, 'I am Australian'.''
MUCH like Matthew Hayden before him, Labuschagne is grateful his road to Test cricket was more a bumpy backstreet than yellow brick road.
Once he played his way into a Queensland Bulls contract then lost it at the season's end. Twice he played five Sheffield Shield games in a season then got dropped.
Once he made a century for Queensland and then got dropped for returning Test player Joe Burns.
But each setback cast pellets of steel in his soul and made him a driven man - training to the point of obsession.
"Going through tougher times and missing out on selections and being dropped helped me.
"I got an upgraded contract for playing five Shield games in 2014 but at the end of the year got no contract at all. I was off contract at age 20. That was a moment when I thought, 'Right, I just have to find a way'.
"I just trained by myself for the entire off-season. I had my own strength and conditioning guy. I paid guys to bowl side-arm to me who could throw to me the whole day. Pretty much my day consisted of doing gym, hitting balls for four hours a day and running.''
THANK THE LORD
RELIGION has always played a major role in Labuschagne's life.
He shares his faith simply by walking out to bat because he inked his favourite verse from Isaiah on his bat ... 'But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.'
He is also a member of a WhatsApp group called Front Foot Faith that contains about 30 fellow cricketers around the world such as South African champion Vernon Philander.
"My faith gives me a perspective of what is important. I love cricket - I live and breathe it - but for someone like me it is a reminder there are greater things out there than smacking a ball around a field.''
Labuschagne met his wife, Rebekah, through the Gateway Baptist Church in Redlands and has strong family support.
"Bek is the sister of one of my best mates and was a long-time family friend," Labuschagne said. "We started dating before I got my first Queensland contract. She has been with me the whole way.''
CRAVING THE CONTEST
LABUSCHAGNE is the sort of cricketer strange things happen to, like when he became the first cricketer subbed into a Test after Steve Smith was concussed at Lord's, only to be hit in the head by the same bowler who hit Smith - Jofra Archer.
"There was no way I was going off. I thought, 'I am not going to be the first concussion sub subbed out of the game with concussion'," Labuschagne said.
"It was weird. But the night before I almost had a feeling how I was going to get hit so I actually rehearsed how I would get up.''
Truth be known, he'd been rehearsing all his life.