When Marnus Labuschagne strode to the wicket in the second Ashes cricket test at the famed Lords’ Ground this year, becoming the first ever player to take the place of another under the concussion rule, no one would have predicted the season that was to come.
When Steve Smith, Australia’s premier batsman who was on a hot streak, was felled by a Jofra Archer bouncer in that match, Labuschagne was only supposed to fill in and hopefully not make too much of a mess of it. After Smith had recovered - or so went the plan - Labuschagne could go quietly back to drinks duties. And we could go back to no longer bothering how to pronounced his surname. “Smith” just rolls off the tongue that much easier.
Now? Labuschagne is the first player in the world this year to achieve one thousand test runs, with an average a tick over 70 this year, and three test centuries in a row this summer. He’s now one of the first names penciled in to the Australian test side. A far cry from a few months ago.
Anyway, Marnus is a man on a mission. Former Australian great, Greg Chappell, now a national selector, believes that Labuschagne could make the number three position in the batting line up for some time to come.
Young, successful, well-regarded and dedicated. That’s all you need right?
Well, they’re helpful and they’re certainly desirable, but for Marnus Labuschagne himself, these things are not enough. They’re not enough to fulfil all his hopes and dreams. In fact, it’s something different altogether, something not all that common in the famously blokey Aussie locker room that drives him onwards:
“Sport is a fickle game and injuries play a big part. In the big scheme of things, what you’re worth, what you put your value in, isn’t out there on the pitch; it’s internal and in Christ… cricket is always going to be up and down and if you have [Jesus Christ as] a constant in your life, it makes life a lot easier.”
I like the way he framed that. Often sports stars who are overtly religious give the impression that their success itself is because of their faith, or that “Jesus allowed me to score that goal”, or whatever.
Marnus Labuschagne is somewhat more realistic. He starts off with how tenuous, how “fickle” sport is. And it’s certainly more fickle the higher up the sports food chain you go.
And he doesn’t despise or insult sport as a “nothing”. He just says that there is a “big scheme of things”. For those for whom sport - or whatever they are putting their time, attention and love towards - is the sum total of the big scheme of things, what he says is a refreshing change.
His value and worth - which is increasing exponentially given he’s likely to sign a million-dollar contract soon - is not tied to externals, but to who he is “in Christ”. That term simply means his value is tied up in God’s eyes with Jesus’ value. Jesus, the Christian message tells us, is of infinite worth to God, and for those who are Christian, their value in God’s eyes is the same as Jesus’.
And he talks about that being “the constant”. I’ve played enough cricket, and a string of ducks playing on the village green in the English countryside is frustrating. It is exponentially much more challenging when you are playing for your nation - and your pay packet - in front of fifty thousand paying spectators and millions more on TV.
But even if you’re not; even if you’re thing is your job or your hobby or interest, when it lets you down, or when you let it down, the need for something more constant to place your value in has to be there. We’ve got hundreds of thousands of people in Australia who are unsure of their value, and no idea where to find value that will stand the test of time.
The fact is Marnus Labuschagne’s batting streak might come to an end. His run of centuries and half-centuries might become a run of ducks. He might, as many have done recently, lose his contract and his big pay days.
Will that be hard? Of course. It’s his passion to play cricket. It would be silly to say otherwise. But would he be devastated and doubt his value and worth; wonder if anything is worthwhile any longer? Most likely not. And the reason is clear: the constant in his life that gives him his value is not tied to anything that can be taken away from him. Perhaps too, that’s why he is playing cricket so seemingly carefree at the moment. He’s experiencing the freedom of it not being “everything” to him.
And as he says, that “makes life a lot easier.” Easier even than spelling Marnus’ surname.