“Yeah, most of Australia hates me” – Mitchell Marsh made this statement during the final Test of the 2019 Ashes series. He was playing his first international game after more than a year in the wilderness.
Australia is a land of people who love their sport and take pride in competitiveness. There had never been any doubt about the amount of talent possessed by Mitchell Marsh. The non-fulfilment of this potential was the cause of such divided opinion about the all-rounder back home.
Rewinding a year from 2019, Mitchell Marsh was one of the two vice-captains in the Australian Test side. But later that particular season, he was out of Cricket Australia’s (CA) central contract and nowhere in the picture for their World Cup preparations.
His whole career has gone on through a series of ups and downs. The level of inconsistency meant that the younger Marsh almost always found himself short in the debates about who the best cricketer in the Marsh family is.
Mitchell Marsh – a potential yet to be fulfilled
At least some cricketing experts have opined over the years that Shaun Marsh did not get enough chances despite being inconsistent throughout his stints with the national side. However, Mitchell Marsh could hardly make a complaint similar to that of his older brother. To his own admission, he “got a lot of opportunities” but did not “quite nail it”.
During a Test career consisting of 32 matches, he has averaged just over 25 with the bat and 38 with the ball. When it comes to ODIs, which has by far been his favorite format, Marsh averages less than 35 with the bat and 37 with the ball. The T20I batting numbers that hovered around 22 before the Caribbean tour did not make any impressive readings either.
To put it bluntly, the numbers were neither justifying the talent that Mitchell Marsh possessed nor did it warrant a place in the national side. But the selectors kept faith in him whenever he produced the goods in the domestic arena. One cannot say that it went well with a large section of cricket followers back home.
Struggles and comeback into the national side in 2019
The period between early 2018 and late 2019 was something that Mitchell Marsh would rather erase out of his life. He lost a friend to suicide which affected him badly during the period. He put on weight which led to a series of underperformance and fitness issues. Marsh did not handle the difficult phase “as best as he could”.
Marsh had to work extensively with Western Australia sports psychologist Matt Burgin to help put his mind and body back into shape.
The comeback trail in 2019-20 wasn’t a bed of roses for Mitchell Marsh. After the solitary Test that he played in late 2019, he hasn’t been in contention for a spot in the Australian team in the longest format. He played seven ODIs and four T20Is in 2020, aggregating 226 runs at a meager average of 27.
The start of 2021 was also not quite encouraging for the 29-year-old. Marsh traveled to New Zealand for the five-match T20I series. After a promising start to the tour, scoring 45 from 33 balls, things once again fell apart for the right-hander. He was batting at number seven behind Ashton Agar and aggregated 22 runs over the next four matches.
It looked like it was time for another hard grind in the domestic arena. But the withdrawal of some senior players like David Warner, Steve Smith and Marcus Stoinis paved the way for his selection in the squad for the tour to the Caribbean.
Caribbean tour and change of fortunes
In a T20I career that started in 2011 against South Africa, Mitchell Marsh played just 20 international matches in the shortest format in 10 years before embarking on a trip to the Caribbean. Initially, it seemed nothing more than a stop-gap replacement for Marcus Stoinis, who is expected to return to the squad for the World T20 later this year.
When Australia coach Justin Langer revealed that Marsh was going to bat at number three, there was no shortage of skeptics. Langer lauded the kind of power that the Western Australian generates and wanted to use him as an enforcer in that pivotal spot.
Mitchell Marsh was quick to prove his coach right. He adapted to the new batting position like a fish to water. In a series where the Australian batting unit failed to fire until the fourth T20I, he stood tall like a lone beam of light.
Marsh has tormented the West Indian bowlers right through the series. He was yet to score a half-century before the series. He now has three from just four matches. More importantly, Marsh has donned the role of the enforcer to perfection, treating both pacers and spinners with disdain and scoring at a rate of 147.
The rise of Mitchell Marsh, the match-winner
From a time when Mitchell Marsh was totally out of the picture in the World T20 scheme of things, Australia are suddenly focusing on him as an able replacement for Steve Smith in that number three spot.
Smith, who is currently nursing an elbow injury, has said he will not rush his comeback, keeping the upcoming Ashes series in mind. Marsh’s performance will certainly give some relief to the Australian selectors about the conundrum of risking Steve Smith for the World T20.
If he indeed becomes part of the World Cup squad, Mitchell Marsh could potentially be the most important cog in the wheel for the Australian side. In addition to the role of an enforcer at the top of the order, the overs that he can bowl could be vital as well.
From a time when the Australians had divided opinion about Marsh, the tide might just have turned for him with the fans loading him up with their baggage of hope.
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