“He has already impressed the former greats with his leadership skills, and if that is backed with consistent performances with the bat, along with crucial wickets with the ball, then it could be a real possibility that the younger Marsh follows in the footsteps of Smith sooner than later”.
“I think Mitch Marsh should be the one that is captain in front of him (Pat Cummins) when Steve Smith is done and dusted. If he keeps going at this rate and improving the way he has with the bat and contributing with the ball, then down the track potentially he’s the man.”
It is nothing unnatural. Many young players keep climbing up the ranks in international cricket from many countries day in and day out, and it is only expected that a few out of the hordes will possess great captaincy skills and be born with leadership traits. Then why the hullabaloo over Simon Katich’s praise of Mitchell Marsh, after he had struck a well-needed and a well-deserved 96 on a sluggish pitch in South Africa in the very first innings in the Rainbow Nation? True, the knock had carried with it traits of Marsh’s indomitable spirit – undoubtedly inherited from his father Geoff Marsh and brother Shaun – but something about the youngest Marsh protégé stands differently.
Maybe it is his all-round abilities. Maybe it is his set priorities and his passion to wear the Baggy Green that made him skip the IPL for a stint in the county club Surrey – something that not many 26-year olds will willingly opt for. Maybe it is his tactical sharpness that makes him such a favoured leader in the dressing room. Or maybe it is just his mental toughness to keep rising from the dungeons every moment the cricketing realm hands him yet another setback and failure.
For long, Marsh remained that “jinxed” cricketer who had set foot on the field to try to emulate his father’s legacy in Australian cricket, without much success. It was assumed that as he had spent his years growing around the game, the player knew nothing better than playing cricket. But, one does not merely turn into a cricketer just by imitating an international star and Mitch learnt this the hard way in his stop-and-start Test career for Australia, where he averaged just 21 in 20 Tests.
He was always a strong front foot player, but he would succumb while picking up the length of the balls. He faltered in his backfoot technique. He was always a great cutter and a puller, but he was unable to utilise those well. When he would go back in the crease, he would hardly shift the weight from the left to the right foot. He was a great driver but had difficulties on the onside on the front foot with a jiffy head position. And so, even though Marsh was termed as vastly talented, the small flaws in his technique went a long way installing his progression on the grand stage.
Last year, when he was ruled out mid-way of the India tour due to a shoulder injury, many feared for the younger Marsh’s career. With an inconsistent run with the bat hardly backing him up, it was only his bowling that had kept in in contention for a spot in the national squad and the injury to his shoulder threatened even that.
But this is where his genetics and his mental toughness came to the fore. He could not bowl much, but he worked on his defence and the ability to keep the good balls away. He started reading the deliveries off the length and made more effective use of the crease. Along with Justin Langer, he worked on his mental conditioning and soon he found himself named the captain of Western Australia, which went a long way in changing the dynamics within the 26-year old.
“I think it’s had a positive impact on my cricket when you go out to play and you’ve got to worry about 10 other guys and getting the best out of the team it takes a lot of the heat off yourself. I think having the added responsibility of making sure that I’m leading from the front on the field has really helped me. It’s had a positive impact on my cricket.”
As soon as he was elevated, he impressed in the domestic limited-overs tournament. He scored 141 against Queensland at the WACA after the first Ashes game and as destiny would have it, Peter Handscomb in the Ashes squad was suffering from an unforgiving dip in form. Mitch was selected for the game at Perth and an innings of 181 runs later, he had cemented his spot at least for a few games. In the Boxing Day match, he combined with Steven Smith to eke out a draw for the hosts and in the next game at Sydney, he further stamped himself with yet another blazing ton.
If any proof was needed of his renewed vigour, it was aptly visible in Durban, when he pushed his way to a 96, perfecting his skills against reverse and conventional swing on the way. He tamed Keshav Maharaj, the most impressive bowler in the Proteas side and tweaked his shot-making against the good deliveries – opting to defend the balls rather than chide at them childishly. He led Australia to a challenging target of 351 and more importantly, personally, has ensured his place in the eleven in the series at least.
Since his return, he averages 104 and this rich vein of form’s coincidence with his ascension of captaincy has hardly gone unnoticed. Katich was profuse in his praise of Marsh and even Mickey Arthur, who has compared the younger Marsh to Jacques Kallis echoes similar views.
Langer too has been selfless in his praise of Marsh’s tactical sharpness, but the greatest compliment had come way back in 2014, when the youngster had still not played a Test game for Australia.
Then-captain Michael Clarke shortlisted Marsh as a future captain by emphasising on his talent, his knowledge and his game awareness. Along with being a great team man, his knack for building an innings struck Clarke and his ability to assess the conditions and work upon a player’s weakness impressed the former skipper.
“His cricketing maturity is at least five years ahead of the date of birth printed on his passport. I don’t have any plans to give up the captaincy yet – there’s plenty more cricket left in me – but I genuinely see Mitch as future leadership material. When he sets fields, you can see that he is thinking not from the bowler’s perspective, but the batsman’s.”
He has already impressed the former greats with his leadership skills, and if that is backed with consistent performances with the bat, along with crucial wickets with the ball, then it could be a real possibility that the younger Marsh follows in the footsteps of Smith sooner than later.