The batting renaissance that has elevated Mitchell Marsh back into Test reckoning was not so much a carefully hatched and executed strategy but rather a necessary by-product from a significant injury setback.
Marsh was Australia’s incumbent allrounder during their Test tour to India earlier this year, but was forced to return home after the second match at Bengaluru to undergo a surgical reconstruction of his right shoulder that was expected to see him sidelined for the remainder of 2017.
But faced with an enforced ban from bowling, the 26-year-old embraced the opportunity to train his focus on one element of his game – a luxury denied him when he was compelled to juggle practice and playing commitments with bat and ball.
Shane Watson, Marsh’s predecessor as the hugely talented seam-bowling allrounder who struggled for more than a decade to find synchronicity in the dual role, regularly warned of the unique difficulties in combining top-order batting responsibilities with front-line bowling workloads.
Watson spoke regularly of the need for aspiring allrounders to carefully tailor their training regime, to ensure they did not devote as much time hitting balls in the nets as their specialist batting colleagues while also limiting their bowling output to less than that of the specialist quicks.
By having no option but to restrict himself to batting practice, Marsh has tightened his technique and settled on a strategy to construct an innings that has seen him emerge as a dominant figure in Australia’s domestic cricket and a likely inclusion for the third Magellan Ashes Test.
Having finished the JLT One-Day Cup series with an average of 169 and a personal best of 124, he followed up in Western Australia’s five Sheffield Shield games of the summer to date with 402 runs at an average 44.66 with a high score of 141.
Which came as a prelude to his unexpected return as a bowler, that in turn signalled to the national selection panel that he was ripe for a Test return.
"I've really enjoyed the last eight months being able to work on my batting,” Marsh said prior to Australia’s main training session for the third Test that starts at the WACA Ground on Thursday.
"I think certainly around training I've learned a lot about what I need to do to get the best out of my sessions as a batsman, so I know now that I can do that.
"Right now, I’ve discovered a game plan that I’m going to stick to and hopefully I’ll be able to do that for long periods of time.
"If you want to be a top-six batsman, you’ve got to make bigger runs.
"There will be times in games in my position batting down the order you need to go out and get quick runs and I feel like I have the game to do that.
"But at the same time, I’ve got to make sure I’m batting long periods of time for this team to do that."
During his recovery, as he nursed his troublesome right shoulder back to full fitness having opted for surgery rather than undergo a lengthy rehabilitation program that offered no guarantee of a complete fix, Marsh worked closely with a trusted mentor.
Scott Meuleman is a former WA first-class player and close friend of Mitchell Marsh’s older brother (and Australia Test batter) Shaun, who now works as a specialist batting coach.
He is also the third generation of the Meuleman family to represent WA after his grandfather (Ken) and father Bob who famously provided batting counsel to ex-Australia great Adam Gilchrist.
And who was responsible for Gilchrist placing a half squash ball inside his batting glove to fix a problem with his grip before he belted his match winning century in the 2007 World Cup Final against Sri Lanka
Marsh and Meuleman worked assiduously on tightening the former Australia under-19 captain’s defence to ensure he was able to bat for long periods, while maintaining the power-hitting element that has earned Marsh a reputation as one of the world’s cleanest middle-order ball strikers.
But the other change to seasons past that has enabled the all-rounder to shift his focus from the dual disciplines in the practice nets has been his elevation to the WA captaincy, a role that he has embraced and executed with flair and enthusiasm.
"I think it's had a positive impact on my cricket,” Marsh said of the leadership role that was bequeathed him upon the retirement of Adam Voges from domestic ranks at the end of last summer.
"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 and that's really helped me.
"I think having the added responsibility of making sure that I'm leading from the front on the field has really helped me.
"So I'd say it's had a positive impact on my cricket."
The likelihood of Marsh making his return to Test cricket nine months after he flew out of India prematurely, with his immediate future in the hands of Melbourne-based surgeons, has been heightened by the belief the WACA pitch for this Magellan Test might be placid and hard work for bowlers.
The fact that he can be called on to deliver up to a dozen overs if required now that his shoulder has healed means Australia will be sorely tempted to include him, with Marsh’s fielding drills today at first slip – the position previously filled by Peter Handscomb – an indication of the selectors thinking.
But while the changes to his batting have been the most obvious evolution in the Mitchell Marsh to emerge post-injury, he is not tempering his aspirations to nail down a permanent Test berth in the demanding dual role as batter and bowler.
"I have to believe I’m the best allrounder in the country to be playing Test cricket, but at the same time for me to be playing Test cricket I’ve got to be the sixth-best batsman in Australia batting at number six," he said today.
"That’s always been the case, and my bowling has always been a bonus."
2017-18 International Fixtures
Magellan Ashes Series
Australia Test squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine (wk), Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Jackson Bird.
England Test squad: Joe Root (c), James Anderson (vc), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Gary Ballance, Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Mason Crane, Tom Curran, Ben Foakes, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ben Stokes, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Chris Woakes.
First Test Australia won by 10 wickets. Scorecard
Second Test Australia won by 120 runs (Day-Night). Scorecard
Third Test WACA Ground, December 14-18. Tickets
Fourth Test MCG, December 26-30. Tickets
Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Tickets
Gillette ODI Series v England
First ODI MCG, January 14. Tickets
Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Tickets
Third ODI SCG, January 21. Tickets
Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Tickets
Fifth ODI Perth Stadium, January 28. Tickets
Prime Minister's XI
PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Tickets
Gillette T20 trans-Tasman Tri-Series
First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Tickets
Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Tickets
Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Tickets
Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 14
Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16
Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18
Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21