Unburdened by leadership responsibilities, a focused Marnus Labuschagne hopes to emulate the consistency of the great Test batters of this era knowing he has a "target on the back" ahead of his home Ashes debut.
Labuschagne has had a remarkable rise since his breakout Ashes tour in 2019 after being thrust into the Lord's Test as a concussion substitute. With a rapidly blossoming career now boasting five centuries at an average of 60.80 from 18 Tests, Labuschagne has made Australia's previously troubled No. 3 position his own and shored up the top-order alongside veterans David Warner and Steve Smith.
Unquestionably a Test star after a couple of dominant Australian summers, Labuschagne has quickly ascended into the top echelon of batters worldwide but knows a continual pile of runs will be needed to be ranked among the modern greats.
"I was lucky to get the opportunity in 2019 and go on with it," Labuschagne said on Friday from his local club Redlands in Brisbane. "The target is on the back now. I've got great examples from this generation to look up to…Williamson, Smith, Root, Warner, Kohli…who consistently score runs."
Labuschagne was unmovable at the crease during his tour de force 2019-20 Australian summer, where he scored four centuries against Pakistan and New Zealand, but found things a little tougher last season against India, whose talented quicks bowled a straighter line with two square-legs often in place. After a slow start to the series, Labuschagne seemed to work things out and finished the series with a century at the Gabba although India famously clinched the series.
There is a belief that an England attack led by talisman James Anderson might follow India's playbook in their quest for a similar upset.
"They certainly can try," Labuschagne said. "India are very used to bowling those plans, that comes second nature to them. Bowling straight on lower bouncing wickets, up and down where it's reversing.
"In England, traditionally, they're bowling a little bit wider. I can't tell you what they're going to bring, but I can just prepare for everything that might be thrown at me."
Having not crossed paths during the 2019 series when Anderson was injured during the opening match at Edgbaston, Labuschagne will face him for the first time in Tests in what shapes as a pivotal battle in the Ashes. "I really can't wait for that challenge to face Jimmy," he said. "You don't take that many wickets and be England's best ever without being quality."
Quarantines and Brisbane's nefarious weather have played havoc for both teams ahead of the first Test, but Labuschagne comes into the Ashes well prepared having peeled off two centuries for Queensland in the Sheffield Shield.
He was confident, however, that Australia's T20 World Cup winning players wouldn't be underprepared with the red ball. "Everyone's been preparing well wherever they've been," Labuschagne said. "It's time for us to gel, get the banter back in the squad and get the band going again."
Having been overlooked for a Test leadership post, Labuschagne said he "wasn't disappointed" and backed newly-installed duo Pat Cummins and Smith.
"I think they're the right people for the job right now," he said. "Captaincy and vice-captaincy are something that you don't search for, it's something that comes to you. If it does come down the track, I'll be thankful, and if it doesn't, I'll also be happy because I'll just hopefully be scoring runs for Australia."
Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth