Handed an unlikely opportunity, Marnus Labuschagne took it with both hands in the first ODI against South Africa
Stars align for Marnus as Mum proves right again
Alta Labuschagne had a feeling.
And despite her son's insistence that he wasn't playing in Thursday's first one-day international against South Africa, she waited patiently for three and half hours as the chilly nighttime air set in across Bloemfontein's Mangaung Oval.
As the saying goes, mums are always right, and 11 overs into Australia's faltering pursuit of the Proteas’ 222, Labuschagne found himself injected into the match after Cameron Green was ruled out with concussion.
The 29-year-old wasn't even supposed to be on this tour, let alone playing in the opening ODI of a five-match series after being left out of the squad due to inconsistent returns in the format.
So it's no wonder the right-hander – who was born and lived 250km north of Bloemfontein until he emigrated to Australia aged nine – had trouble believing his mum's feeling that he was going to be playing.
"She stayed for the whole game … she was adamant when I came here that I was going to play this game and I told her 'I've seen the team, mum, I'm not in the team'," Labuschagne recalled post-match.
"She just had a feeling, and once again she's right."
It's lucky then that Labuschagne prides himself on making sure he's "always ready", as not for the first time he was thrust into an ongoing contest as a concussion substitute with Australia on the ropes and in need of an unlikely hero.
Four years ago at Lord's he made a gutsy 59 to help Australia salvage a draw after replacing Steve Smith halfway through the second Ashes Test, and it's that experience he drew from as he walked to the middle with his side 5-72 and with Green to take no further part in the match after being hit on the helmet by a Kagiso Rabada bouncer.
"It comes (down) to your training, I always pride myself on training well, and making sure I'm always ready," Labuschagne said.
"The opportunity that happens when you're a concussion sub is sometimes a little bit of a free hit because the pressure of the game is out there but obviously the expectation is probably not as much on you."
After receiving a late call up to the touring party for the 50-over series with Smith still recovering from a wrist injury, Labuschagne seized his opportunity with a World Cup just around the corner and Australia permitted to make any changes to their provisional 15-player squad until September 28.
He played the dominant hand in a 112-run match-winning eighth wicket partnership with Ashton Agar, finishing 80no from 93 balls in what was his highest one-day international score since his maiden century in the format on Australia's last tour to South Africa in 2020.
Green was sent for a precautionary scan after retiring hurt and has now entered the eight-day concussion protocol and will be monitored daily by medical staff. He is unlikely to be available for selection until the fifth ODI on September 17 in Johannesburg.
With seven one-day internationals to go before the start of Australia's World Cup campaign on October 8, Labuschagne has now put himself in the box seat to be among one of the first batters in should injury strike the Aussie squad.
"I have been really disappointed with how I've played my one-day cricket, the last 10 to 12 games I felt like I haven't shown the intensity and the courage that I would have liked," Labuschagne said.
"I wasn't too shocked when I when I was dropped, I said that to the selectors (that) 'I understand, I haven't made runs'.
"When I came back from the Ashes, I went back to the drawing board and really thought about what I wanted to improve in my one-day game.
"I still want to be that person batting in the middle-order, and you've just got to sit tight and wait for your opportunity and when it comes, you've got to be ready."
2023 Qantas ODIs v South Africa
September 7: Australia won by three wickets
September 9: Second ODI, Bloemfontein (D/N), 9pm AEST
September 12: Third ODI, Potchefstroom (D/N), 9pm AEST
September 15: Fourth ODI, Centurion (D/N), 9pm AEST
September 17: Fifth ODI, Johannesburg, 6pm AEST
Australia ODI squad: Mitchell Marsh (c), Sean Abbott, Ashton Agar, Alex Carey, Pat Cummins, Tim David, Nathan Ellis, Cameron Green, Aaron Hardie, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Spencer Johnson, Marnus Labuschagne, Tanveer Sangha, Marcus Stoinis, David Warner, Adam Zampa
South Africa ODI squad: Temba Bavuma (c), Gerald Coetzee, Quinton de Kock, Brjor Fortuin, Reeza Hendricks, Marco Jansen, Heinrich Klaasen, Sisanda Magala, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, David Miller, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje, Tabraiz Shamsi, Kagiso Rabada, Rassie van der Dussen