“Away from the 22 yards, Langer smiled in awe as his protege soaked in the atmosphere, aware that he had seen in Marsh the sparks of talent and hunger that very few had been able to see”
“A lot of people have gone further than they thought they could because someone else thought they could.”
While every player who takes the field of play has his own expectations and dreams of making it big, the truth remains that unless a sportsman can find for him a mentor who can see the talent in him and inspire him to push his limits and boundaries, the difference between the ordinary and the extraordinary will remain large. A similar story has panned out for one of the most maligned Australian cricketers Shaun Marsh who has been in the news more for his injury issues and inconsistencies than for his match-winning displays.
In a roller-coaster ODI career, where he has been dropped and recalled more times than he has played, Marsh averages 39.44 in 55 ODIs, with four hundreds and twelve fifties and a high score of 151. While the numbers may not be as dismal on first glance, a deeper insight will burst the myth. He made his ODI debut in 2008, and while he played 29 games in the first three years of his international career, the numbers dropped massively since then. He took part in only 7 matches in 2011, and did not play a game in 2012. From 2013, Marsh has participated in 19 matches, with just one hundred. His knock of 131 was his first in five years – a knock that came at the back of insane patience, self-belief and undying support from Justin Langer.
The faith that the former Australian legend had in the two Marsh brothers was evident from the day Langer took over as the coach of Western Australia. Back in the time in 2012, the elder of the Marsh brothers, Shaun, had been called-up for the many off-field issues that had plagued his side Perth Scorchers’ terrible Champions League T20 outing as well as to account for the winless start by WA in the Sheffield season the same. Soon, he was dumped from both the Shield and the ODI teams, and just when his career, was looking down the dumps, in arrived Langer to rescue him and help Marsh reinvent himself.
By working on his technical flaws and his faulty footwork, he helped Marsh slowly but surely gain his lost confidence. Despite the presence of Langer with him, Marsh failed to shine through for long periods in both domestic and international cricket, with the seaming and the moving ball constantly disturbing him. In Tests, Marsh averaged 17.60 against the balls that seam more than 0.75 degrees and 11.60 against balls that swing more than 1.50 degrees. Add to that, his frequent break-downs, be it in regards to his back, calf or hamstring, made Marsh a victim of disdain. The Ashes recall was his eighth in seven years, and he marked a comeback to the ODI side after more than a year.
To say that Langer, the newly appointed coach of Australia, had no role in his comeback would be a foolish assumption. Before the series began, Marsh was playing for his side Glamorgan in England, in what was a “surprise” recall. Langer had pushed for Marsh’s selection during the Ashes; he pushed for him during the ODI series as well. The former player had been accused of “biasedness” by fans on social media on both instances, some of whom failed to see what Langer had spotted in Marsh. During the Ashes, he averaged 74.16, with a high score of 156.
“He’s an outstanding talent, there’s no doubt about that. One of the best things that have happened to him, he played for Yorkshire and in his last game of the county season he watched Kumar Sangakarra, who’s one of the all-time great players, get a hundred. And Kumar got 10 or 11 hundreds in county cricket this year, it’s absolutely freakish. And he came back and said, ‘Mate, the best thing about it was how relaxed he was. He was so relaxed’. And he hit every ball in the middle of the bat. And he said, ‘When I went out to bat that innings I wanted to be like Kumar’.
On Saturday, in the second ODI, this was on display as well. Coming in to bat with England putting on a massive 342 runs on the board, and with Travis Head returning back with the scoreboard reading 24 for 1, Marsh took his time settling in and navigating deliveries above 82mph with ease. David Willey bowled the good length consistently, pitching the ball near the fourth stump and while this would have troubled Marsh earlier, this time he covered everything with defence.
He adjusted well to the shorter deliveries and charged down to the flighted balls. He looked at ease against Adil Rashid, Australia’s nemesis so far, charging out to convert his leg-break into a full-volley. In the 31st over, he beautifully squared up and opened up to an off-break ball that turned ever so slightly. Marsh came forward to a spinning ball that spun to the outer half as it trickled past short third man. He brought up his hundred with a four off a fuller ball by Liam Plunkett, which was whipped away to deep mid-wicket. A hundred after 5 years. Celebrations. Joy and Ecstasy.
Away from the 22 yards, Langer smiled in awe as his protege soaked in the atmosphere, aware that he had seen in Marsh the sparks of talent and hunger that very few had been able to see. If Marsh had failed in this series, it would probably have meant the curtains to his international career, but by living up to the faith that had been shown by his Perth coach Langer, Marsh could just have begun an interrupted journey back towards salvaging some of the lost reputations.