The 26-year-old Queenslander, in just two years, has had to adapt to the role of concussion substitute, No. 3 batsman in Tests, No. 4 in ODIs and most recently that of an opener in the last ODI against India at Canberra.
Labuschagne — the first concussion substitute in Test history when he replaced Smith who was struck on the head by a Jofra Archer bouncer at Lord’s in the Ashes 2019 — looks like is ready to adjust to a new role, again.
Ironically, thanks to a concussion again, suffered by regular opener Will Puckovski who looked set for a Test debut in the absence of David Warner. Youngster Puckovski was hit on the helmet by a rising delivery from Kartik Tyagi during a warm-up match between Australia ‘A’ and India ‘A’ in Sydney last week, and has since been ruled out.
Joe Burns has hit a rough patch, as was indicated by his two-ball duck in the pink-ball warm-up game at the SCG in the first innings on Friday, and that means Labuschagne may have to soon don another role, that of a Test opener, in the day-night Test starting at Adelaide Oval on Thursday.
The industrious South Africa-born cricketer, though, is in the mood to say “bring it on, guys”.
“There has not been any talk on batting position. Currently I think No. 3,” Labuschagne said, when asked if there was a position he would prefer. “But I am just preparing to bat, if that’s No. 1 or No. 3, it doesn’t matter. I am ready to face the ball, no matter what the circumstances are,” he said during a virtual press conference from Adelaide on Saturday.
The pink ball often moves in angles that defy geometry and moves late, especially under lights; and Labuschagne may be a default opener, especially if he is in second ball. The talk doing the round is, if we can expose him second ball, why not the first ball? The move will also allow Cameron Green (also concussed) or Mathew Wade to bat at No. 6.
“My job is to face the ball that is coming down to me wherever I am batting,” the 26-year-old states philosophically.
Labuschagne has inherited all the qualities that Smith has. A gluttonous appetite for runs, a solid temperament, a mind-over-matter attitude and a work ethic that could tell fatigue to go elsewhere with a colourful word.
He is quintessentially Aussie. Like Smith, he is also willing to make subtle changes to his game, like he did in England last summer. He changed his bat-swing and accounted for a tweak in his back leg and hip position, thanks to tireless stints with his county coach at Glamorgan, Mathew Maynard.
Result? Bradmanesque numbers since, or should we say, Smithesque.
In 14 Tests, Labuschagne has 1,459 runs at an average of 63.43. When he came to India for the three-match ODI series, one could see him in Smith’s back pocket all the time during nets ahead of the first ODI in Mumbai, where he made his debut but could not bat as Australia won by 10 wickets.
Like Smith, one almost needed a crane to get him off the practice pitches. Like Smith, he took extra throw-downs. Like Smith, he made the net bowlers wish they had an extra arm. Like Smith, he kept chatting with assistant coach Andrew McDonald about where he could improve.
Indians would hope, like Smith, Labuschagne doesn’t become another immovable object, once hostilities begin on the 17th of this month.