Chances are, whatever the level and nature of your engagement with cricket, you have felt, heard, or talked about its relentless grind for
the last six months what now seems like forever.
No sooner had Marco Jansen hit a four and six to finish the SA20 than India and Australia were squeezing out a four-Test series in a month; than New Zealand were pulling off one of the great Test wins over England; than Afghanistan and UAE were sprinting through a T20I series; than Bangladesh were beating the world champions; than South Africa were thumping the West Indies in a Test no one watched; than the TV umpire was ruling Kane Williamson in to seal one of the great Test wins; than Lahore Qalandars were winning the PSL by a single run in one of the great T20 finals; than Ravindra Jadeja was ending the IPL with a six and a four in one of the great T20 finals.
The calendar's gotten so crowded that for a lot of the world outside India, the IPL - where once it was an example of how cluttered the calendar is - is now the one pause. There's more teams to play for, more places to play in, more leagues to fly to, more matches, all blending into one another like some super unhealthy, super bland smoothie.
You know who doesn't mind that? Who actually likes it this way? If you guessed Steven Smith, close. If you guessed Marnus Labuschagne, you were right. Somehow it feels entirely in keeping with Labuschagne, the world's most fidgety cricketer, that he prefers not stopping. There's never enough runs scored, bowlers beat, fields pierced, balls outside off left (or new ways to leave those balls).
So, a summer in which, injury permitting, he will play six Tests in less than eight weeks, where he could end up as a world Test champion and an Ashes winner in, is probably perfect. Like the grind of the county championship, it keeps him straight. He wants in on the rat race. He wants to stay on that treadmill. This doesn't wear him out. This is what wears him in.
"Back-to-back games really helps," he said as Australia trained ahead of the WTC final against India at Beckenham. "Playing a lot of cricket with not much break in between helps as a batter to get rhythm and feel and you're able to learn from games rather than sort of stewing over technical things.
"That's one of the big differences. In Australia you might have a week and a half or more between games. Then you go back to training, you might have got out a certain way so you're tinkering, changing your batting. You come to England, you play Thursday to Sunday for seven weeks straight, and that just creates routine and rhythm. If you miss out in a game, you stick to the same process, you've got Monday off, Tuesday you go into a training session, Wednesday you travel and Thursday you play. That rhythm creates good habits of scoring runs. That's what really helps as a batter over here."
Over here, in England, it's helped him to the extent that he averages over 55 for Glamorgan since 2019. England is so familiar that Glamorgan doesn't represent preparation for him as much as just normal routine. The country is not only where his international career took off four years ago, as the game's first concussion sub for Smith, it is also where he believes he started on the path to first-class cricket, playing for Sandwich Town in the Kent Premier League nine years ago. He's here now as the world's best Test batter, with a tilt at the official world title (the WTC) and then the unofficial world title for the two countries that play for it (this doesn't have quite as catchy an acronym).
Both will be familiar opponents, the leitmotif of the modern age being that somewhere in the world, Australia, India and England are always playing each other. India and Australia were playing a Test less than three months ago, a series in which Labuschagne ended as the fourth-highest scorer on a succession of surfaces very different from what will greet them at The Oval.
"You definitely learn from how you play them there," he said. "There's probably a bit more bounce here in England than in India, so probably just need to factor that in to how they bowl. (R) Ashwin's tactics might change a little bit, Jadeja's tactics might change a little bit, so just adjusting to those on the fly out there, what they're going to try and do, making sure you're nice and aware out there.
"We've played two of [India's] main seamers [Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj], who are going to play, at least three actually if Umesh [Yadav] plays as well, two months ago. In terms of seeing and knowing their actions and what they do, we're pretty clear on that. Obviously with the Dukes ball in hand, they'll be able to showcase their skills a lot more.
"The reality is - I've played against Ollie Robinson, Josh Tongue, against Matt Potts this year - I've played against all those guys, I know what they bowl, so it's just about understanding what they're going to do and preparing well."
So much has passed since that it's relatively easy to forget how wobbly Australia felt when they arrived in England in 2019. Labuschagne was not part of the side. Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft were returning to Test cricket after Sandpapergate, Tim Paine was their captain, and their bowling attack was in such flux that Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon only played one Test together. The composition changed regularly.
They didn't lose the Ashes but this time round, by contrast, they are more settled, with Hazlewood's fitness the only slight unknown as the summer begins.
"It's just we're really well organised," Labuschagne said. "Probably in 2019 we weren't as set on the team. There is a lot more clarity around this team which creates that consistency, it creates the preparation instead of people playing for spots and feel like they're vying for a position. Everyone knows where they sit, and we can prepare and get ourselves ready."
Central to that sense of stability is Labuschagne himself, more so than nearly any other batter in the side. He's not ready to get off the treadmill just yet.
"In terms of the feeling it's more about the preparation. Whereas in 2019 I felt like I had to prove to people I was good enough, now for me, it's just about making sure I do my role in the side and work out ways to score runs. Mentally, I'm as hungry as ever to score runs and want us to win this series."