Marsh gratefully grabs licence to attack
All-rounder’s change of mindset pays huge dividends with a career-best bowling display on day one at The Oval
Andrew Ramsey at The Oval
13 September 2019, 07:52 AM AEST
Mitchell Marsh concedes he felt "like a kid at Christmas" when he turned up to The Oval on Thursday morning to prepare for his first Test match of 2019, only to find an even greater surprise gift awaited.
When he was included in Australia's 17-man Ashes touring party in mid-July, it came with the understanding he was unlikely to make the starting XI until late in the series, when the front-line fast bowlers had completed an arduous workload.
Having set himself the personal goal of exerting a positive influence on the group regardless of whether he earned a call-up or not, Marsh accepted that if a Test return did arise it would be in his usual guise as back-up seamer.
In other words, the guy who can chip in with a tidy five or six-over spell to give the headliners a breather, and maintain pressure on England's batters by bowling a 'dry' line and length that's tough to score from.
So when coach Justin Langer approached him during the pre-game warm-up, at The Oval and again in the lunch break and issued him a licence to attack, Marsh's Christmas suddenly morphed into New Year's Eve.
Grasping his chance to not only play the part of front man, but to banish the ghosts of a bitter Australia summer just gone and gain vindication for the sacrifices he's made since then, Marsh produced his best bowling performance of a stop-start-stop five-year Test career to date.
Langer's instruction that Marsh, fourth-string seamer behind Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Peter Siddle in the final Test, should hunt wickets proved as prescient as it was unexpected.
"JL (Langer) came up to me before the start of play, and at lunch time and said 'go for it – attack, bowl the way you want to bowl'," Marsh said after his 4-35 from 16.1 overs that saw England end day one at The Oval 8-271.
"I was a little bit, not shocked, but it gave me great confidence to go out there and give everything I had.
"Maybe a change of mentality allowed me to bowl a bit more attackingly.
"The Dukes ball always swings for me, I don’t do anything different.
"I stand the seam up, get it going to first slip and it swung for me all day today, which allowed me to be more attacking."
So threatening was Marsh during his definitive spell after tea that yielded him 3-17 from eight overs before England's lower-order rallied around big-hitting Jos Buttler, the all-rounder was then summoned back to the crease after a short break.
But he lasted just one delivery on his return to the bowling crease.
Wracked by cramps in both hamstrings and his calves, Marsh hobbled from the field to provide belated ammunition for his phalanx of critics in Australia who delight in pillorying him for getting selected, for getting dropped, and even for getting injured.
"Australians are passionate, they love their cricket, they want people to do well," Marsh explained when asked why he so polarises the cricket public.
"There's no doubt that 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."
As if his improved pace, challenging lengths and pronounced swing were not sufficient to vindicate his inclusion for this Test, his return to the field late on Thursday afternoon after receiving treatment for multiple muscle cramps saw him send down one last, defiant over.
It summed up the latest iteration of the too-often-maligned all-rounder.
Amid the disappointment of losing his Test place, the distress at being dropped from Cricket Australia's centrally contracted player list, and the desolation of losing a close friend to suicide last summer, Marsh found an inner-resolve to fight his way back.
It began with a refusal to accept public opinion's court ruling that he had squandered too many previous opportunities, and included a concerted campaign to improve his fitness and shed excess kilos from his hefty frame.
"I certainly worked hard the last five months to get an opportunity again," Marsh said after the opening day of his first Test since last year's Boxing Day match against India at the MCG.
"When you have setbacks you always think the worst.
"I thought I might not play again after a summer like I had last year.
"There has been no secret recipe, I just worked my bum off hoping to get another opportunity.
"JL challenged me from a fitness perspective and over the last six months I have put everything I’ve had in to it, and I’ve changed my lifestyle a bit.
"I don’t necessarily eat that bad, I’m just a big eater so I've probably cut down on my portion sizes a fair bit.
"My body just likes to put on weight easily, and my mum likes to feed me.
"I haven’t had as many roasts at home in the last six months, but it hasn’t been that hard.
“When you are not playing for Australia it’s not that hard to make a few changes.
"I love playing for Australia, I just love it, and I want to keep doing it, so I’ll keep working."
Having returned his best bowling figures in a Test innings, surpassing the 4-61 he snared against the West Indies at the MCG in December 2015, Marsh saw an immediate return on his fitness investment.
But if there's a lesson he learned from his experiences last Australia summer, when he was also elevated to the role of Test vice-captain only to be dumped from the team soon after, it's that there a few quick fixes in professional sport.
It was only through stringent effort on and off the field and a deep drive to get back to the top that he hauled himself out of the tailspin he found himself in and snared a place in the Ashes touring party that took him to the centre of The Oval in the final Test.
Marsh concedes his inability to regularly score runs in the Test top-order deservedly cost him his place, it was the struggle he found in dealing with that omission and other compounding factors that exacerbated his form slump.
"I didn't handle it as well as I could have," he said.
"It transitioned into my cricket at times, as well.
"I understand everyone goes through tough periods in their life, and I certainly didn't handle that as best as I could.
"It took me until March, my last three Shield games of the year for Western Australia.
"When you play cricket and you badly want to do well, and it doesn't work out, it's very easy to get down on yourself.
"I was certainly at that stage, so I did a lot of work with our sports psychologist Matt Burgin at WA about dis-attaching myself from the outcome, working as hard as I can, getting as fit as I can and preparing well.
"Today was a good reward for that, but it’s one day of the Test match and we have a long way to go in this game."
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.
England squad: Joe Root (c), Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jack Leach, Craig Overton, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Chris Woakes.
First Test: Australia won by 251 runs at Edgbaston
Second Test: Match drawn at Lord's
Third Test: England won by one wicket at Headingley
Fourth Test: Australia won by 185 runs at Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval