Men's Ashes 2019
Bat obsession sees Labuschagne realise boyhood dream
Surrounded by cricket all his life, Marnus Labuschagne will be in the thick of an Ashes series for the first time when play kicks off on Thursday
Andrew Ramsey in Birmingham
29 July 2019, 05:03 PM AEST
Marnus Labuschagne's journey to the cusp of a key role in an Ashes campaign reads more like a boy's own adventure then a carefully cultivated cricket pathways progression.
The effervescent Queenslander's introduction to the game's most famous rivalry came in 2005 when he, aged 11 and having recently arrived in Australia with his family from South Africa, became engrossed in the 2005 Ashes series in England which remains regarded as the most memorable of modern times.
Still learning to master English which is so linguistically different to his native Afrikaans, Labuschagne was so enthralled by that five-Test battle he continues to watch replays of that series which ebbed and flowed right through until the last day of the final match.
That memory, which saw England win back the urn for the first time in 20 years, fuelled him through his adolescence and his commitment to cricket landed him a dream job at the Gabba in Brisbane for the opening Test of the 2010-11 Ashes summer.
"I was working for Channel Nine as the hot spot guy - I was moving the hot spot camera when Sidds (current Ashes squad mate Peter Siddle) got his hat-trick," Labuschagne recalled today in Birmingham where the first Test begins on Thursday.
"I was up on the second level, moving the camera from side to side, and I was there for the hat trick which was pretty cool.
"I was literally a ring-in, I knew some guy and I got paid to watch the game.
"So it was a win for me back then, I was getting paid like $90 a day to move the camera around."
Marnus Labuschagne recalls his front row seat to a 2010 Peter Siddle masterclass 😎 pic.twitter.com/7QUao7ef3Y— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) July 29, 2019
Four years later, having progressed his on-field cricket to the point where he'd been selected in Queensland's Sheffield Shield team and played five games as an opener, Labuschagne was once again in the right place at the perfect time.
Drafted as a spare fielder into Australia's dressing room for the 2014-15 summer's second Test against India at the Gabba, Labuschagne made it on to the field when Mitchell Marsh and then short-leg fielder Chris Rogers were forced off with injuries.
Filling in for Rogers, who had suffered a heavy blow to the helmet in the fraught fielding position, Labuschagne became a household name by diving full-length forward to pluck a stunning catch, ironically confirmed as being out through hot-spot technology.
Now, a further five years down the track, the 25-year-old veteran of 60 first-class games and five Tests (in the UAE and Australia) is poised to figure in Australia's quest to win the Ashes in the UK for the first time since that 2005 series that he came to cherish.
He has spent this British summer playing with Welsh county Glamorgan, and when it was his turn to front selection panel chair Trevor Hohns in Southampton last week as the Ashes touring party was confirmed, he initially feared that's where he would play out the remainder of the season.
"He (Hohns) started with 'so when’s your next game at Glamorgan?'," Labuschagne recalled of that conversation last Friday morning.
"And I said 'tonight, actually Cracker (Hohns's nickname)' and he goes 'well you can tell them you are not playing'."
After sharing the joyous news with his wife, Rebekah, and his parents in Brisbane, Labuschagne's mind immediately turned to the question every member of the 17-man squad now ponders – will he make muster for the first Test at Edgbaston?
"We’re looking at four days until game time, and obviously everyone wants to play," he said.
"But the selectors and coaches and captains are going to pick the best XI for that Test match.
"It's a big squad to win a Test series, and over here the conditions can vary so much and injuries (can create opportunities).
"We, as a whole squad, need to be really tight and regardless if you are in the XII or in the XI or not, it is about putting the team first and making sure everyone is ready to win the game."
In the meantime, Labuschagne will indulge his related passion that consumes so much of his time and attention when on the road with a cricket team and at home in Brisbane – his obsession with the bats that are his principal tool of trade.
He admits that he's currently travelling with 10 (not quite as many as fellow bat tragic Steve Smith, who is reportedly packing 15), and that payload includes a sneaky hand-me-down from England captain, Joe Root.
Labuschagne is at pains to point out that he secured Root's bat through legitimate means, having played alongside the England skipper's brother (Billy) at Glamorgan and noting that Billy Root uses his sibling's cast-off gear.
But the Queenslander will need to dig into his stash now that the favourite blade he's been using to head the division two county runs-scoring table this summer was broken during last week's all-Australia intra-squad warm-up match at Southampton.
Luckily for Labuschagne, finding the perfect replacement before the Ashes campaign kicks off will be a pursuit of pure passion.
“I love bats," he said as a wide smile spread across his face.
"I love the gear.
"I love talking bats - fine details, changes, handle shapes, how the bat taps, the length of the blade.
"I think they have a nickname for me (at the Kookaburra bat manufacturing factory), they call me the “Hurricane” because when I go in there all the bats come out, boxes are everywhere, I am feeling every bat, tapping it up.
"I love it."
It's the sort of infectious enthusiasm that can drive a dream.
And unite a team.
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.
England squad: Joe Root (c), Moeen Ali, Jimmy Anderson, Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Olly Stone, Chris Woakes.
Tour match: Australians v Worcestershire, August 7-9
Second Test: August 14-18,Lord's
Third Test: August 22-26, Headingley
Tour match: Australians v Derbyshire, August 29-31
Fourth Test: September 4-8, Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval