'Unofficially dropped five times', Australia's middle-order man nonetheless played every match of the World Cup, and was there when it mattered in the final
True believer: How miracle man Marnus kept the faith
Marnus Labuschagne revealed he did not know if he was playing in the World Cup final until 10pm the previous day, as the batter put his extraordinary late run from ODI outcast to clutch contributor down to religious conviction.
Originally left out of an 18-man squad for the tournament before becoming the predicted fall guy for when Australia's star players returned, Labuschagne finished the successful campaign as its most improbable hero.
It is a tag the 29-year-old was wearing with honour in the afterglow of his 192-run partnership with Travis Head that provided the backbone to Australia's unlikely World Cup final triumph over India.
"It's hard for me not to believe in miracles, and that there's someone above putting the pieces together," Labuschagne said after his 58no helped seal the six-wicket win.
"Last night, 10 o'clock, the team hadn't been announced yet. Didn't know (if I was playing), I was sitting on my bed. And I was actually thinking: How can I add value then if I'm not playing? Maybe fielding?" he said.
"Then at quarter past 10, the team got sent out and it just said 'same team'. So that was a bit of a relief."
Only 105 days have elapsed since Australian selectors sent Labuschagne a strong message by leaving him out of their provisional World Cup squad.
His journey from there to playing every match of the tournament and a starring role in the final on Sunday is remarkable.
After Labuschagne's initial snub, a wrist injury to Steve Smith saw him added as a late inclusion for a five-match ODI series in South Africa, but he was overlooked for the XI picked for the first game in Bloemfontein.
Never mind, he ended up player of the match anyway after hitting 80no from No.8 as Cameron Green's concussion substitute. With that innings earning him another game, he hit 124 from 99 balls in the next match, which was at the time his fastest knock in any international format.
It was a performance that showed he had swiftly implemented the feedback from selectors of the need to bat more proactively, and helped him get picked in the 15-man World Cup squad.
The fact cover was needed for the injured Head and no back-up spinner was picked aided his cause.
Picked for the first match of the tournament, Labuschagne still looked like he was keeping a seat warm for someone else. But he somehow kept his spot the whole way through the group stage.
When Marcus Stoinis returned from a niggle for the South Africa match, Green was dropped instead. When Head returned to face New Zealand, Stoinis got hurt again. When Stoinis returned to play England, Glenn Maxwell fell off the back of a golf cart and Mitch Marsh went home due to his grandfather's death. When Marsh and Maxwell returned for the Afghanistan game, Smith got vertigo. When Smith returned for the Bangladesh game, Maxwell's body had not recovered from his double century against Afghanistan.
By that point, Labuschagne had shown his value. On tough pitches for the semi-final and final where par scores were around 250 rather than 300, he was preferred to Stoinis.
"I think I was unofficially dropped five times, but played every game," said Labuschagne, who, despite the drama, has now played in 25 consecutive one-dayers for Australia over the past 12 months.
"I wasn't in the squad in South Africa. Someone got concussed, I got an opportunity, got some runs, pushed my case, got in the squad, played 19 games since the first South Africa (ODI) in a row.
"So it's hard for me not to think, you know, as a man of faith, that there's not someone else pulling the strings.
"I'm very thankful for the coaches and selectors for sticking by me … luckily I got us over the line."
Labuschagne joined Head with Australia in trouble at 3-47 chasing 241 to win their sixth men's ODI trophy, but swiftly found his groove with the South Australian.
When Head was caught on the midwicket boundary attempting a title-clinching six, Labuschagne ran after him as he walked off the ground to share an embrace to mark their match-winning stand.
The pair are the same age and have played with and against one another since the Under-15s.
"It's almost the perfect pair out there for that sort of scenario. Me absorbing the pressure at one end, Heady putting pressure back on them at the other," said Labuschagne.
"We played a beautiful hand, because I'm playing such a low-risk game, not letting them in, Heady's taking the game on … they're kind of getting punched from both ends.
"We just kept saying to each other, 'Just keep playing your way'. He said (when victory was in sight) 'I'm gonna finish it this over'. I really wish he was out there for the finish … it was such a special innings."
Australia's 2023 ODI World Cup fixtures
October 8: Lost to India by six wickets
October 12: Lost to South Africa by 134 runs
October 16: Beat Sri Lanka by five wickets
October 20: Beat Pakistan by 62 runs
October 25: Beat Netherlands by 309 runs
October 28: Beat New Zealand by five runs
November 4: Beat England by 33 runs
November 7: Beat Afghanistan by three wickets
November 11: Beat Bangladesh by eight wickets
November 16: Beat South Africa by three wickets
November 19: Beat India by six wickets
Australia squad: Pat Cummins (c), Sean Abbott, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Marnus Labuschagne, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis, David Warner, Adam Zampa