Marnus Labuschagne has enjoyed a meteoric rise to the big time.
Marnus Labuschagne has enjoyed a meteoric rise to the big time.

‘Summer of Marnus’ began with refusal to make way for Smith

Marnus Labuschagne's Sir Donald Bradman-like summer was ignited by a maiden Test century that almost never eventuated as coach Justin Langer considered a last-minute rejig of his top order.

As openers David Warner and Joe Burns compiled a 222-run stand that lasted 365 deliveries, Langer discussed unleashing Steve Smith at first drop instead of Labuschagne.

Another Smith masterclass at No.3 would've likely resulted in Labuschagne, 25, heading to Adelaide Oval still searching for a breakthrough ton.

 

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“Me, go down the order? No thanks, JL.” Picture: Michael Klein
“Me, go down the order? No thanks, JL.” Picture: Michael Klein

But Labuschagne shot down Langer's idea and then crushed Pakistan with 185 to kickstart his march to the top as Australia fans realised that Smith's Ashes sidekick was the real deal.

"(Langer) said to me, 'A lot of times when you've been the next in-batter you've wasted a lot of mental energy because it's quite draining when you're sitting there watching for four or five hours'," Labuschagne told the Herald Sun.

"So he said, 'Sometimes it's good to change the batting order a bit'. But I said: 'There is no way I'm letting Steve bat in front of me, because I won't get a bat'.

Marnus Labuschagne refused to go down the order and then went out and crushed 185. Picture: AAP
Marnus Labuschagne refused to go down the order and then went out and crushed 185. Picture: AAP

 

"I still to this day don't know if JL was being serious or not. But my response was deadly serious - 100 per cent there was no way I was letting him bat in front of me."

Labuschagne - who is set to bat at No.4 in his white-ball debut against India, with either Steve Waugh or Matthew Hayden likely to present his cap - went on to plunder scores of 162, 143 and 215 as the hero of a five-Test home summer in which he averaged a staggering 112.

But it was Labuschagne's gritty 74 (129) under dark skies on day one at Headingley in last year's Ashes that sparked belief he had the mettle for Test cricket. England was skittled for 67 on day two of that Test.

"That innings I rank as one of my best," Labuschagne said.

"In those conditions I think I got 74, and that was just after Lord's where I came in for Steve (concussion) and it set the tone for me.

"I've gone, 'Righto, I have the technique, I have the temperament and I can do this'.

"Seeing conditions were really tough. It was really dark and in England the crowd sits behind the bowler's arm and the sight screen doesn't really cover from top to bottom.

Labuschagne had to fight, tooth and nail, at Headlingley. Picture: Getty Images
Labuschagne had to fight, tooth and nail, at Headlingley. Picture: Getty Images

 

"So fuller balls were quite tough to pick up. Everything about that morning - losing the toss, getting sent in - it was all hard work. The ball was swinging a lot, but more it was seaming a lot, and that made it quite tough.

"There's definitely times where I felt batting can't get much harder than this, and I found a way to scrap through.

"So when I got an opportunity this summer - in better batting conditions - I definitely felt equipped."

The Queenslander who grew up in Klerksdorp, South Africa and barely spoke English when he arrived in Australia now wants to emulate Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson and Smith by extending his Test domination to white-ball cricket.

"There's not many people who are so dominant in all three formats," he said.

"For me I've had a nice start this summer in Test cricket, but looking at the likes of (Smith), Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson, those guys are dominating two or three of the formats. That's my challenge."

Labuschagne revealed he spent 40 minutes facing Mitchell Starc and James Pattinson in the Lord's nets just hours before he was thrust in as Smith's concussion replacement on day five.

"(Captain Tim Paine) yelled across and said, 'Look, I think you're in' and so I jumped out of the net pretty quickly," Labuschagne said.

 

Marnus Labuschagne takes in the sights in Mumbai.
Marnus Labuschagne takes in the sights in Mumbai.

The Jofra Archer bouncer that KO'd Smith effectively triggered Labuschagne's rise to No.3 in the ICC Test rankings, although after belting 1114 County Cricket runs for Glamorgan an opportunity wasn't far away.

"It's hard to say (if I should be thanking Archer), isn't it?" he said.

"Cricket's a game of opportunities. You look across my career so far and a lot of my opportunities have come from probably other people's misfortune.

"It's weird how it happens."

Interim coach Andrew McDonald wants Labuschagne to rip through plenty of leg-spin overs against India while Josh Hazlewood noted how hanging around Smith and David Warner was paying off for the cricket nuffie.

"His hunger stands out more than anything," Hazlewood told the Herald Sun.

"His hunger to train as hard as he does, to hit as many balls as he does and his hunger to learn.

"That's probably why we've seen everything click this summer.

"I saw signs in the Ashes that he obviously had the talent and the fight it was just about going on with those starts and he's done that now."