“Captaincy and leadership are going to be a big part of his [Mitchell Marsh] re-emergence in international cricket.”
These were the words of Western Australian coach, Justin Langer after Mitchell Marsh was recalled to the Australian Test squad for the third Ashes Test at Perth.
The sentence makes you want to re-read (just in case you read it wrong) and ponder if old age has made Langer go nuts. Why in a team of superstars would an all-rounder average 21.74 with the bat and 37.48 with the ball be touted as a future skipper?
If you are a Western Australian fan, Langer’s tactical nous would have made you vomit, if you didn’t know that his maddening move to appoint Marsh the junior as skipper of Western Australia was a masterstroke.
He led the side charismatically, a word you would never have used to describe Mitchell Marsh a year ago, flawlessly, not just leading them to a JTL One Day Cup win but also starring in the final with a typically belligerent 80.
In hindsight, his leadership skills aren’t too surprising given where he gets his genes from. His father, Geoff Marsh, was a former Western Australia skipper and an opening batsman.
Marsh the junior is one of those talented kids whom Australia wanted to mature as early as possible so they could pick him.
He must have been born in a 22-yard cradle, sheathed with a green cloth instead of a white; drinking milk from a bat-shaped feeding bottle and probably even lost his first teeth biting a red cherry with a seam.
It was no surprise when he took to bowling because his elder brother preferred batting when they played in the backyard. It was no surprise he developed good pace and an intimidating bouncer ’cause he needed it to ruffle the brothers of Shaun [Marsh] when they played behind their house.
When he made his ODI debut as a 20-year old, Australia wanted him to reprise the role of Shane Watson when he eventually walked off – bat like a champion and bowl with a zip in his steps. Marsh did neither. He became a bits and pieces player, churning out rare match-winning performances in between truckloads of wild slogs and loose balls. His Test career was remarkably similar, if only a bit more sheepish. In short, he became nothing like how he was touted to become.
With just 2 half-centuries in 35 Test innings and 29 wickets at an average of 37.48, he was probably a good all-rounder (good, not great) in a minnow side rather than a top tier Test nation striving to become the number 1 in Tests.
Yet, two innings’ after he resumed his bowling since suffering a major shoulder injury at the start of the year in India, he is picked in the Ashes squad. It shows the kind of desperation Aussies are in to make Marsh a world-class all-rounder. Even if he could bowl from a stretcher and land it on the 22 yards, he would have made it to the squad.
Australia need a fifth bowler for Perth, someone who can give their strike bowlers, the three Musketeers, a break after they devour some English meat. But if they needed that alone, they wouldn’t have omitted Chadd Sayers who was in the squad for the first two Tests. They also needed a batsman to cover up for Peter Handscomb’s big back-foot and someone who could run in and do a holding role with the ball or charge in and bowl a spell full of bouncers. In a nutshell, they needed a superstar.
Mitchell Marsh was certainly one. He may not have the numbers but the talent in cricket is a tricky proposition like love. It makes you exalted, keeps you between smiling and crying, makes you want to tear your hair out but eventually you trust in it that you always give a second chance. Think of JP Duminy. South Africa would have loved to get rid of him earlier but right when they are on the brink of doing that, Duminy would unfurl a cover drive that would dry the grass on its way.
Marsh is someone similar, a player who you know will become King one day but you just don’t have the patience to reach that moment. He is a jumbo-sized burger you itch to dig into, but the moment you do, you realise there is too much of sauce.
If picked in the XI, his job would be nothing different from his elder brother’s – play back-up.
This Australian team has just 6 players – 3 world-class seamers, a chirpy, damn good off-spinner, a brutal opener and a flamboyant skipper. The rest are back-ups, pushed in to fill in the numbers and probably score a bit of runs or take a wicket or two. They aren’t expected to win games on their own. Yet, Marsh the senior did exactly that when Australia’s plans went awry at Adelaide under the red skies. That is exactly why the Aussies pick the Marsh brothers.
There is something about them which makes you want to go back to them time and again. Talent is one, definitely. But more than that, it is the manner in which they choose their moment to stamp their presence in the game and take it back home.
The Mitchell Marsh punt could very well go haywire at Perth. It could be the single decision that would put the Aussie selectors’ out of job. It could even bring England back into the Ashes. But even if Mitchell Marsh gets twin ducks, no wickets and goes for eight an over, trust the selectors to go back to him in a year’s time. At 26, he has the talent, not the numbers; confidence, not the skills. Yet, he is a superstar and will always be. But will he be the King? Only time will tell.