That’s not to say there is an element of fortune in Labuschagne’s story. Picked somewhat from left-field in 2018 for the two-Test tour of the UAE, at that point he was as attractive to the selectors for his leg spin as his potential with the bat.
He did enough to play home Tests against India and Sri Lanka but wasn’t originally in the Ashes frame despite being selected in the squad. He became the first concussion sub when he stepped in for Smith in the second Test and never looked back, averaging just over 50 in difficult conditions to help his country retain the Urn.
From there, Labuschagne has barely missed a beat, continuing his strong form at the start of the domestic summer and shaping as a key part of the top order for Tests against Pakistan and New Zealand this summer.
He said he didn’t put any pressure on himself once he returned home after being somewhat of an accidental hero in a memorable Ashes campaign, instead relying on the meticulous preparation he undergoes before each and every game.
“The only pressure was public pressure. In terms of in my own game, none at all. I felt like my batting was in a nice place, a really good place. For me, it was all about sticking to my processes and how I go about the game. It’s just about reenacting that,” Labuschagne said.
“It’s about preparing for where I am playing. There’s no point practicing to play at the Gabba if you are about to play at the MCG. It’s about being ready for the game at hand and that’s one thing that I’ve been able to do the whole season, prepare for different bowlers in different conditions and adapt my game.”
Labuschagne can’t help but shake his head at the notion that wove a magic wand and suddenly became a hardened Test player and the kind reliable of top-order companion for Smith that Australia had been seeking.
He has been working with the fabled batting coach Neil D’Costa since he was 19, when he made a decision that he wasn’t content with just being a decent club cricketer. He always felt bigger things would be in store and was going to make sure he was as ready as he could be when the time came.
“This is the stuff that doesn’t get talked about much, it’s all in the background. We’ve been working on my game since I was 19, all for this moment, or these moments. We’ve been learning the game and batting, not just on a surface level but understanding the game, what you need to do for the game. That’s been a long process.
“Neil first saw me at the U19 championships. I first met him at a clinic at (Brisbane school) Gregory Terrace when I was doing a bit of work there. It all grew from there. At the end of that season, I was doing alright at grade cricket, and I decided that if I wanted to be the best, I need to change what I’m doing. I was just your run of the mill grade cricketer.
“There is a long, long process to this. It didn’t just happen overnight and everything just magically clicked. You have to go through the ups and downs of Shield cricket to understand what it requires to keep coming back.
“You have to go through the highs and the lows to fully grasp how to become a better player. There will be many more of both but if you can understand that early, you are better placed to take the chances when they arrive.”
Labuschagne is the kind of cricketer that relaxes on his days off by playing more cricket. Statistically, he was the busiest cricketer on the planet in 2019, spending 129 days in the middle across 42 matches (first-class, List A, T20I and top T20 leagues).
That haul included some 117 days of first-class cricket, which was well clear of the next best, English opener Mark Stoneman. Part of that was a stint with English county outfit Glamorgan, which proved to be an ideal prelude to his performances in the Ashes.
That ironman effort is partly due to his sheer love of the game. It was also designed to give him the kind of accelerated cricketing education you can’t get hitting balls in the nets, although Labuschagne admits he took some time to discover the best way to fast track his results with the bat.
“I love training but I love playing. The biggest difference for me in England was going over and learning to play your game in the middle, not playing your game in the nets. I think that was something I struggled with a bit, I always felt like I had to hit a ton of balls because I wasn’t getting that time in the middle,” Labuschagne said.
“The one thing I learned in England was to really cherish that time in the middle… you can’t give that up for anything. That’s where I did a lot of the learning over the summer.”
Red ball cricket has been the object of Labuschagne’s affections from the time he can remember first seeing the game on television. He’s somewhat of a throwback cricketer in the best possible way and thrives on the unique mental and physical challenge of the five-day format.
“I love Test cricket. I have since I was two and three years old when I was watching it on TV. It is the most challenging format of the game. It challenges you in all facets; physically, mentally, it challenges your skills.
“To be a great Test cricket, you can’t be a one-off. You need to be patient and determined and consistent and that’s what makes it such a beautiful game.”