Harvey, 91, has watched the rise of Australia’s No.3, who reached 215 on Saturday, from afar and likes what he sees.
“What he’s done has been very good,” he said on Saturday. “I’ve only seen him on TV. He’s a good player, a determined player. He’s obviously appeared out of nowhere in a short time. But he looks good and he’s got good technique.”
Harvey said there would never be another batsman like his former captain Bradman. But while the sample size for Labuschagne is small – he has only 22 Test innings behind him – he boasts an average of 63.63 that is second only to the Don’s 99.94 and ahead of Smith’s 62.84.
Harvey hasn’t rated the quality of the two touring teams this summer – “if New Zealand are the No.2 rated team in the world, that doesn’t say much for all the others” – but knows pummelling as many runs as Labuschagne has across five Tests is no mean feat.
“He’s got discipline and concentration,” Harvey said. “It looks as though he’s going to be around for quite some time. He might pinch some of Smith’s mantle.”
Labuschagne is also blessed with great self-belief, with a much-discussed obsession with all things batting and an insatiable work ethic, but even he could not have foreseen the fruits of the past six weeks, particularly when he was left out of the team at the start of the Ashes in England in August.
He made his Test debut the previous October against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates but by April had failed to win a Cricket Australia central contract and set off to Wales to hone his game for Glamorgan in the County Championship.
It was there that the county’s coach, Matthew Maynard, unloaded when he thought he should have made a then-elusive first-class double ton.
“He has sent me a few messages when I threw away a couple of my opportunities to get a double,” Labuschagne said. “He did say that to me a few times. One day he said to me ‘there’s only five times in your life you can make a double and you just threw it away today, well done’.
“I was like ‘that’s a bit stiff’, but he’s been great. As a player sometimes you don’t realise that in the moment because when you’re on a higher score you’re playing with a bit of freedom instead of realising the opportunity you do have.”
The county stint proved a masterstroke. When he was called upon by Australia again – as a concussion substitute when Smith was rocked by a Jofra Archer bouncer in dramatic scenes at Lord’s – he immediately looked as if he belonged and was a key figure in the retention of the Ashes.
Labuschagne has pointed out he’s no overnight success. He has been the busiest cricketer in the world on a statistical level, with ESPNCricinfo analysis in October revealing he played 129 days of elite cricket in the preceding year, 15 more than anyone else.
His name has been included in speculation about the future captaincy of Australia, which would seem premature if not for esteemed figures such as Ricky Ponting giving the idea credence.
For now though, like Smith, Labuschagne is focused not on titles but runs, and he’s scoring more of them than anyone else.
Most runs in a five-Test Australian summer (Australian batsmen)
Marnus Labuschagne: 837 runs, 2019-20
Neil Harvey: 834, 1952-53
Don Bradman: 810, 1936-37
Bradman: 806, 1931-32
Bradman: 715, 1947-48
Chris Barrett is Sports Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.