Challenge SPORT

Well versed in winning

New batsman in the Australian cricket team Marnus Labuschagne proved himself a useful all rounder by taking seven wickets at an average of 22.4 in the Test series against Pakistan played in October in the UAE.

Marnus Labuschagne
Marnus Labuschagne (right) of Australia celebrates with teammate Travis Head after dismissing Fakhar Zaman of Pakistan during day one of the Second Test match between Australia and Pakistan at Sheikh Zayed stadium on October 16, 2018 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Photo: Francois Nel/Getty Images
Marnus Labuschagne
Marnus Labuschagne (right) of Australia celebrates with teammate Travis Head after dismissing Fakhar Zaman of Pakistan during day one of the Second Test match between Australia and Pakistan at Sheikh Zayed stadium on October 16, 2018 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Photo: Francois Nel/Getty Images

New batsman in the Australian cricket team Marnus Labuschagne proved himself a useful all rounder by taking seven wickets at an average of 22.4 in the Test series against Pakistan played in October in the UAE.

The 24-year-old earned his Test debut just a week before - a dream come true for the Afrikaans kid who grew up idolising Hansie Cronje and Sean Pollock.

Marnus' family immigrated to Australia in 2004 when he was 10 and it was only here that he learnt to speak English, which he does without a trace of South African accent.

Although the lingo may not have stuck, his family's strong Christian faith has left more of a mark on the capable sportsman.

Raised in Sunday School and the church, Marnus says he's always had a very strong relationship with God. As a young boy, he remembers lying in bed unable to get to sleep until he'd prayed. "I think that continued relationship with Christ over the years has just gotten stronger and stronger. I can't really remember a time where I didn't believe in God," he said in an interview with Vision 180 radio.

At 16 Marnus took on his childhood faith as his own and was baptised in water as an outward display of the inward commitment he had made to God to die to himself and live for Jesus.

Every time he walks onto the field, Marnus displays his faith. His mother, "a very good Christian lady", inspired him to have Bible verses printed on his shoes, "to reflect the way we walk in the blessings we're given", and he has the number 40:31 on the bottom of his bat.

Bible verse on shoe
The Bible verse on the inside of Marnus’ sports shoes.
Bible verse on shoe
The Bible verse on the inside of Marnus’ sports shoes.

That is a reference to his favourite Bible verse, from Isaiah, that says: "But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."

Marnus admits that sometimes he prays to win a match, especially when victory feels just within reach. But he also prays for protection for the team against injuries and that they can showcase their God-given talents. "But mainly I pray that I will perform at my best, and that all the glory will go to Him [God], for whatever happens on the day, win or lose."

Marnus says he "definitely" sees God's hand in getting him to where he is today. "In all my cricket God has been a massive part in my life and all I've done," he testifies.

Balancing his faith and his passion for cricket has sometimes proved challenging, especially, he says, with the locker room pressures to have sex before marriage.

Now that Marnus is married to Bec, the sister of his best friend from church, one imagines elite cricket will exert equally strong pressures on that commitment.

"The environment you're surrounded with isn't really ideal at times," he admits, "and you tend to be away from home a lot."

He says that an important thing that has kept him grounded is having a strong group of church friends outside of cricket.

"It's easy to put all your time and effort into something you're passionate about, especially something as difficult and demanding as sport. But at the end of the day, if cricket's gone, and you haven't built relationships with people outside of cricket, it's going to be a really tough time," Marnus realises.

Marnus also gets support and inspiration from Queensland Cricket's chaplain Artie Shepherd, and from like-minded Christian cricketers.

"We've got a WhatsApp group called Front Foot Faith, and we've probably recruited about 20 or 30 professional cricketers around the world," including other Queenslanders like Peter George and James Bazley, and South Africans like Vernon Philander and Temba Bavuma.

Marnus has had plenty of positive experiences as an outspoken person of faith. "Over the years, since I've been part of the squad, there's been some amazing growth inside Queensland cricket in regards to Christianity, and just how people perceive it. I think people sometimes think Christianity is too religion-based, and not relationship-based."

That perception has been beginning to change, and God has given Marnus some surprising opportunities to contribute to that.

Marnus and Bec
Marnus and his wife Bec on their wedding day.

"On my debut for the Brisbane Heat, Joe Burns was our captain that day. He thought a cool way to involve me in the game that day was to say a team prayer before we went out to field. There have been heaps of times like that and I think I've been able to help people get a better understanding of what Christianity is about."

Besides physical temptations, Marnus is also aware of the temptation to make an idol of the sport that he has loved since he was a toddler.

"If cricket's everything and anything, then you're putting that ahead of God, and I don't think as a Christian that's where I want to be, or where we should be," he explains. "In the big scheme of things, your value isn't out there on the pitch, it's internal and in Christ."

The Bible verses on his shoes and cricket bat show that Marnus is committed to walking with the Lord. He understands that his talent is a blessing, and his relationship with God should always come first.

Ambition can be dangerous if it gets in the way of what's of eternal importance. But with Marnus' Christ-focussed attitude, we are not surprised that God has honoured him with a place in the Aussie national squad and the opportunity of an even bigger platform to share his faith.

As Psalm 37:3-4 says "Trust in the Lord, and do good; Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the Lord, And He shall give you the desires of your heart."

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