Mitchell Marsh’s rollercoaster run and crowning glory

The Australia No. 3 was the standout player, hitting 77* in the final against New Zealand on Sunday to emulate his father Geoff Marsh as a World Cup winner
Australia's highest scorer with 77 runs Mitchell Marsh drops his bat as he celebrates after his teammate Glenn Maxwell hit a four to win the tournament in the Cricket Twenty20 World Cup final match between Australia and New Zealand in Dubai, UAE, Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021. Australia won by 8 wickets. (AP) PREMIUM
Australia's highest scorer with 77 runs Mitchell Marsh drops his bat as he celebrates after his teammate Glenn Maxwell hit a four to win the tournament in the Cricket Twenty20 World Cup final match between Australia and New Zealand in Dubai, UAE, Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021. Australia won by 8 wickets. (AP)
Published on Nov 15, 2021 06:26 PM IST
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Mitchell Marsh must have visualised and prepared for this moment for an inordinately long time. For over two decades perhaps. Ever since he was hanging around a hugely successful Australian team on the Lord’s balcony as a seven-year-old, gawking at his idols from the inner sanctum of the dressing room as they went on to win the 1999 World Cup. The ambition to be part of a World Cup-winning squad was already realised when he was one of the 15 members who won the 50-over event in 2015. In Dubai on Sunday, the satisfaction of delivering the main act in the T20 World Cup final was derived too.

The early access to a revered group of Aussie greats came by virtue of being the son of Geoff Marsh, a World Cup winner himself in 1987 who was Australia coach from 1996 to 1999.

There were other perks, of getting to travel with the team along with his father, learning the right bat grip from Justin Langer or simply observing how a cunning Glenn McGrath plotted the downfall of a batter. A lot of it might have obviously been beyond the grasp of a kid in primary school, but it ensured that junior Marsh was exposed to best practices from the outset.

So by the time Marsh grew into a tall and burly adult, the expectations were naturally high. And the early impressions made grand predictions even harder to resist. As captain of title-winning Australia in the 2010 U-19 World Cup, of which Josh Hazlewood was also a part, the then 18-year-old already seemed to exude the characteristics needed for the senior level. Carrying on the robust tradition of Australian all-rounders, he could bat anywhere in the middle-order and bowl at more than brisk pace.

Unlike many U-19 stars who start meandering in the domestic game when they are in it for too long, Marsh’s elevation to international cricket was fairly prompt too. His ODI and T20I debuts came on a tour of South Africa in October 2011, when still a few days shy of turning 20. Shane Watson was the main man then and Marsh a seemingly worthy successor.

A decade later, Marsh has 32 Tests, 63 ODIs and 36 T20Is to his name without quite nailing down a place across all formats. The batting average still stands at 25.20, 33.44 and 31.60 respectively while the effectiveness of his seam bowling has dwindled slowly but surely.

The selectors’ persistence with Marsh eventually began to invoke the ridicule of Australian fans and turned him into a figure of derision. The all-rounder was acutely aware of the public sentiment, having been subjected to vicious online trolling. He admitted to the Australian media in December 2017 how all the hate and negativity made him feel “pretty s***”. It seemed as though Marsh had turned it around when he smashed 181 against England in the third Ashes Test in Perth that year, but it turned out to be one of the many false dawns.


Another of those arrived again in the Ashes two years ago. He took 5/46 in the first innings of the final Test at the Oval—his first five-wicket haul in Tests—before remarking: “Most of Australia hates me. There’s no doubt I’ve had a lot of opportunities and haven’t quite nailed it, but hopefully they can respect me for the fact I keep coming back… hopefully I’ll win them over one day.”

Make what you will of Marsh not having played a Test since then. While a lot of it has been due to his tendency to pick up untimely injuries—it also plagued elder brother Shaun—some of the misfortune has been of his own doing. At the start of the 2019-20 Australian summer for example, he suffered a broken right hand after punching the dressing room wall upon dismissal in a domestic game and was out of action for six weeks.

“Langer just told me I’m an idiot basically. He was disappointed for me,” Marsh said at the time. “For sure, it won’t be happening again.”

Until July, there was scant evidence of Marsh becoming a concrete part of Australia’s plans. But the limited-overs tour of the Caribbean provided the Western Australian a window of opportunity. With many of the regular players missing in action, Marsh was entrusted with the No. 3 slot. The series outcome was disastrous for Australia, a 1-4 defeat evoking no optimism. Marsh, however, scored three half-centuries and made a strong case for his suitability to the role even when the seniors returned. The ensuing series in Bangladesh was a sterner challenge because of the spin-friendly surfaces. Marsh again coped better than the rest, finishing as their leading run-getter for the second successive series.

Yet when the turn came for Australia to play an extra bowler against England in the T20 World Cup, Marsh was sacrificed in favour of Ashton Agar. Instead of doing daft things like punching dressing room walls this time around, Marsh took it on the chin and waited for his opportunity. A thumping defeat to England ensured the wait was brief, and Marsh hasn’t disappointed since.

It remains to be seen whether this is the beginning of a consistent run. Australia chief selector, George Bailey, said hours after the Player-of-the-Match effort in Dubai that Marsh’s T20 success was unlikely to influence selection for the Ashes. “They're (T20s and Tests) about as far removed, we joke internally that they're different sports in many respects,” he told SEN’s Dwayne's World on Monday. Bailey though sees promise, of Marsh building on his T20 form and playing at the peak of his game for the next three-four years.

Be that as it may, what is certain though is he doesn’t need to worry any longer about winning over the Australian fans.

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    Vivek Krishnan is a sports journalist who enjoys covering cricket and football among other disciplines. He wanted to be a cricketer himself but has gladly settled for watching and writing on different sports.

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