Two years ago, Mitch Marsh briefly found himself back where he always wanted to be; in the Australian Test team at the Ashes.
He played well, most notably taking a first innings 5-46 in a losing team, but it was a performance you’d be forgiven for forgetting today.
Marsh hasn’t played another Test for Australia since that week at the Oval, where he was playing just his second match in nearly two years.
What’s hard to forget, however, is how candidly he spoke with the media as he confirmed, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he knew what we always wondered if he did.
“Yeah, most of Australia hate me,” Marsh said after day one of the fifth Ashes Test in 2019.
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“Australians are very passionate, they love their cricket, they want people to do well.
“There’s no doubt I’ve had a lot of opportunity at Test level and I haven’t quite nailed it, but hopefully they can respect me for the fact I keep coming back and I love playing for Australia, I love the baggy green cap and I’ll keep trying and hopefully I’ll win them over one day.”
Those are comments worth revisiting this week as Marsh, suddenly, is the man Australia sorely needs to achieve greatness it never has.
Australia has never won the men’s T20 World Cup since it started in 2007, but Marsh is set to spearhead the nation’s fight to do so this time around.
For the Marsh sympathisers – and there haven’t been many over the years – there was always a hope that his ultimate redemption story would end with a nailed down Test spot.
But maybe this is it instead: Marsh crafting and blasting Australia to a World Cup win.
It might sound fanciful given Australia is ranked seventh in the world and has well-known issues against spin and pace-off bowling.
Australia will hope warm-up games aren’t anything to go by given India completed an eight-wicket rout in their match on Wednesday night.
Nonetheless, if you listen to members of the Australia camp, you’ll notice that something special is brewing.
Marsh is being spoken about in a way he has never been spoken about before.
“I think Mitchell Marsh is going to have a massive tournament. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone hit the ball better – ever,” Glenn Maxwell said this week.
“We all gathered around his nets and just watch him hit the ball – it’s been pretty extraordinary to watch him go about his business at the moment. I’d be really surprised if he didn’t have a good tournament.
“His presence around the group, regardless of what he’s doing, is second to none. He’s the guy everyone wants in the team – he’s flying at the moment.”
Ashton Agar offered similar lofty praise for Marsh, saying he’s batting “like I’ve never seen someone bat before”.
“First ball in the nets, he’s crunching it for six, no matter who’s bowling at him,” Agar said.
Exactly what is making Marsh tick is hard to say, but it can be traced back to that week at the Oval.
A year earlier, Marsh was promoted to Test vice-captain in the wake of ball-tampering suspensions to Steve Smith and David Warner. In his first series in the role, however, he averaged 7.50 against Pakistan with a top score of 13 and was dropped.
Marsh later told The Howie Games podcast that a family tragedy struck on the eve of the series that stopped him from sleeping for a whole week.
“My good mate Jarvo, who was dating my cousin at the time, unfortunately got to a point in his life where (taking his own life) was the only option for him and it was extremely sad at the time,” Marsh said.
“I sort of felt guilty at that time being away from my family, being away from my cousin, and it was just unfathomable that he was gone, and I was away from home.”
He added: “I’ve just got this distinct memory of fielding at deep point on the day of Jarvo’s funeral, and just thinking, ‘Is this all worth it? What am I doing here?’”
Marsh’s next Test was on Boxing Day 2018, but he said he still wasn’t in the right frame of mind to be playing for Australia.
“That was a very tough summer for me, both away from cricket dealing with something like that, and then on the field obviously I wasn’t performing, which made it tougher,” he said.
Months later, at the Oval in September 2019, was the first public sign that Marsh was overcoming his mental demons as he entered what should be the prime of his career.
That week he showed a calm acceptance – or resignation, if you will – of not just his position in the Australian cricket set-up but within the wider public, too.
He wasn’t kicking and scratching, hoping for Australia to finally relent, open its arms and embrace him like it never had before.
Simply, he wished to be liked.
Crucially, he no longer cared if he wasn’t.
It was a fresh mindset that has served him well for the struggles he’s faced since.
Just weeks after the 2019 Ashes concluded, Marsh broke his right wrist in a split second bout of fury.
Marsh was so angry at being dismissed in an early-season Sheffield Shield match that he punched a wall. The subsequent injury effectively ruled him out of a Test re-call that summer.
It’s important to note that, first and foremost, he was furious that he felt like he let Western Australia down. What the injury did for his chances of retaining his Test spot was a secondary consideration.
“I thought it was really important as captain, on a day like that, to stand up and steer the ship into safe waters,” he said at the time.
“I want to win games for Western Australia, I want to make runs for Western Australia, I want to be playing for Australia at the same time. There’s a lot of things that go into frustration building up.”
It was a massive professional setback to the now 30-year-old, but it painted a picture of his renewed focus and determination to perform in whatever assignment was being put in front of him.
Naturally, the most action he has seen since has been in T20 cricket, chiefly for the Perth Scorchers in the BBL.
On return in 2019-20, Marsh hit the ground running by averaging 34.72 in the BBL, with an impressive strike rate of 145.24.
The great cricket black hole of 2020 soon followed, preventing Marsh from mounting any sort of case for a Test re-call, but not before he was reinstated to Australia’s white ball XIs.
A steady rise has since followed: Marsh played four T20Is and seven ODIs in 2020, averaging 27.66 and 26.71 with the bat respectively. An even stronger BBL season followed with the right-hander averaging 39.37 with a strike rate of 147.88.
Step by step, Marsh was climbing back up the ladder, culminating in a lead role for a depleted Australia in mid-year T20 series against the West Indies and Bangladesh.
Marsh nearly tripled the run tally of the second-highest Australian run-scorer across the two series by making 375 runs at 37.50, including four half-centuries in 10 innings. What’s more is that the series saw him make a more notable return with the ball, claiming eight wickets at 13.62.
Australia may have lost both five-match series but, if nothing more, Marsh was well and truly back for his latest resurgence.
“I’m just so happy for Mitch, to be honest. He’s copped a hell of a lot over his career, and a lot of it is pretty unwarranted, I think,” Agar said earlier this month.
“He’s handled that incredibly well, to just keep coming back. I think that’s been his greatest strength; he always comes back.”
Marsh’s older brother, Shaun, believes the happiness he has found off the field has helped ignite his revival on it.
“He’s found a real balance in life away from cricket,” Marsh said, per cricket.com.au. “He got engaged recently. He’s in a really happy place away from cricket and I’ve got no doubt that’s helped him be a bit more relaxed and enjoy the game.
“I know how talented he is. It’s nice to see that coming out of him now and I can’t wait to see him bat over there.”
Now, even with Australia returning to full strength, Marsh is poised to play a massive role at the World Cup.
A number of Australia’s batters enter the tournament with a serious lack of game-time under their belts.
Steve Smith hasn’t featured in a T20I since December 2020 and played just twice for the Delhi Capitals when the IPL resumed last month. When naming his best Australia T20 XI, Shane Warne left Smith out – albeit before he topscored against India on Wednesday.
David Warner also only batted twice for Sunrisers Hyderabad, when the IPL resumed, and hasn’t played a T20I in more than a year. In his last four innings – including recent warm-ups against New Zealand and India – he’s made just three runs.
Meanwhile, both Aaron Finch and Marcus Stoinis have had interrupted years due to injury, while first choice wicketkeeper Matthew Wade averaged 12.90 against the West Indies and Bangladesh.
Few would be willing to write off some of the names above, but it’s clear that Marsh, on his current trajectory and form, could be Australia’s biggest batting weapon alongside Maxwell.
Marsh is expected to bat at No.3 and with the Warner-Finch partnership failing to fire, he’s likely to be called on early in Australia’s innings to lead the charge.
It’s a task Marsh knows he’s up for.
“I feel really confident going into this World Cup with my form, and where I am mentally and physically,” Marsh said earlier this month.
“I just feel really well prepared. Ultimately you can’t control what happens on the day, (but) I know that if I go into a game prepared, it holds me in good stead to go out there and just play the game.
“That’s all I’m focusing on at the moment, that’s helped me in recent series, and hopefully it’ll help me going into this World Cup.”
The sad reality is that whether Marsh delivers this World Cup or not will likely once again affect his standing within the Australian public.
Why exactly is hard to say at this point. There’s been few nicer, well-spoken and resilient characters to have played for Australia than Marsh.
But after walking a long, winding road to this point, there’s a feeling that he is at least prepared for whatever happens next.
And it’s within that acceptance that you’ll find a reason to be excited about Marsh once more.
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