It’s a shame for Labuschagne that this is the final Test, because this has been the summer of Marnus. If there was a doubt over him after the Ashes, it was whether he could convert his half-centuries into tons.
That query has well and truly been put to bed. Don Bradman and Neil Harvey are the only two men to have scored more than his 752 runs during a five-Test Australian summer.
Labuschagne’s century today is his fourth of the summer, putting him alongside a trio of greats in Steve Smith, Virat Kohli and Doug Walters.
Only Ricky Ponting with five from seven Tests in 2005/06 has reached triple figures more times in an Australian season.
In the form he is in, it would not be wise to bet against Labuschagne joining Ponting with a ton in the second innings if he gets the opportunity to bat again.
Propelled by a 156-run stand between Labuschagne and Steve Smith, Australia reached 3-283 at stumps on the first day, and there is the likelihood of many more runs to come on the second day.
That Smith is out – for the first time this series to a bowler other than Neil Wagner – is one of few positives the Black Caps can take out of the day, although he still made 63.
Averaging 85 since his recall in the Lord’s Test, Labuschagne’s career mark has now rocketed to a Smith-esque 62.52, placing him third on the all-time list behind Smith and Bradman (with a minimum of 20 innings).
Twelve months ago, Australian cricket fans were shocked by Labuschagne’s recall and promotion to No.3 for the Sydney Test against India, a move championed by Greg Chappell.
Although he was a player of promise, Labuschagne’s first-class average at the time was just 33 – a clear indication that his selection was based on potential over performance.
Though appreciative of having a figure of Chappell’s repute pushing for him, Labuschagne knows there’s only one thing that matters for a batsman.
“There’s no other currency than runs,” Labuschagne said. “You can have a good technique but unless you’re putting big scores on the board eventually it doesn’t matter.”
The Queenslander will face far superior attacks to the Black Caps’ undermanned division, but it is his appetite for runs that has become a hallmark of his game. A self-proclaimed cricket tragic, Labuschagne appreciates better than most how fickle the game can be and is intent on capitalising on his rich vein of form.
On the occasions Labuschagne has batted with Smith, the apprentice has upstaged the master. This occasion was no different, though the younger man is not comfortable at all with the comparisons.
“He’s been doing it a long time,” Labuschagne said. “For one person to perform for over a year to a guy who’s been performing for eight years, that’s something I aspire to.”
While Smith battled against Wagner, taking 45 minutes to get off the mark, Labuschagne was at ease throughout. He was supreme against spin and not threatened by the quicks.
Smith escaped Wagner’s clutches, but the Kiwi enforcer has stymied the great batsman’s scoring, leaving his strike-rate of 35 well below his career mark of 56.
Wagner’s short-pitched tactic may have taken the slips, the stumps and lbw out of play, but, given he has seldom been dismissed those ways, his decision to plot a different course was well justified and now vindicated.
The Black Caps were briefly in the contest when David Warner departed shortly after lunch for 45 but not much has worked for them since.
Andrew Wu writes on cricket and AFL for The Sydney Morning Herald