His selection for the game ahead of Travis Head led to criticism from plenty, but Mitchell Marsh made a successful comeback to Test cricket bagging 4 for 35 to help restrict England to 271 for 8 at the end of the first day of the fifth Ashes Test at The Oval.
Marsh has been in and out of the Australia set up, having last played a Test in the home series against India last December. He was named vice-captain before the last season but poor form and fitness issues led to him being sidelined. He wasn’t picked for the World Cup either.
Marsh got candid after his performance at The Oval, joking that most Australians hate him. However, he stressed he would do everything he can to keep playing for Australia.
“Most of Australia hate me," he joked in the press conference."Australians are passionate, they love their cricket, they want people to do well. 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, I love playing for Australia, I love wearing the baggy green cap. I keep trying, hopefully I win them over one day.
“As a professional athlete when you have setbacks you always think the worst, you think you might not play again after a summer I had last year. There’s been no secret recipe, I’ve just worked my arse off for the last five months hoping to get another opportunity.
“I wanted to come here and have a positive influence on this group, I think I’ve done that running the drinks and I just waited for my opportunity. I don’t necessarily eat that bad, I’m just a big eater, so I probably cut down my portion sizes a fair bit. There’s no secret JL’s certainly challenged me from a fitness perspective, he wanted me to get fitter and stronger and over the last six months I’ve put everything I’ve had into it.
“I’ve certainly changed my lifestyle a little bit, I’m waking up every day trying to be the best cricketer I can be, and today was good reward for that but it’s one day of a Test match. It wasn’t terrible but my body likes to put on weight easily and my mum loves to feed me, so I haven’t had as many roasts at home the last six months, but it hasn’t been that hard. I love playing for Australia, I just love it, and I want to keep doing it, so I’ll keep working my arse off."
Marsh conceded he didn’t make enough runs to keep his spot in the Australian side, and pointed to handling personal issues as one of the reasons for his struggles.
“I wasn’t making runs - if you bat No. 4 for Australia you need to make runs," Marsh said. “Last year was a range of stuff, a few things in my personal life. I lost a close friend to suicide at the start of the summer and when things like that happen, I didn’t handle it as well as I could have and that transitioned into my cricket at times as well. I understand everyone goes through tough periods in their life but I certainly didn’t handle it as best I could.
“But to have gone through that and got through the summer the way I did and finished with Western Australia, I knew I still had love for the game. It was a tough summer last year. I tried to put it behind me as quickly as possible and here I am. It took me until probably March, the last three Shield games of the year for WA. When you play cricket or you do anything and you want to do well badly 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 psych Matt Burgin at WA just about detaching myself from the outcome, working as hard as I can, getting as fit as I can, preparing well and it sort of started from there. I’ve hardly played any cricket since then but that’s what I’ve been doing."
Marsh has often been a fifth bowler, giving the main ones a break. He revealed that Australia coach Justin Langer asked him to change that mindset before this game.
“I think in the past my role as a bowler has been to hold an end," he said. “JL came up to me before the start of play and at lunch time and he just said ‘go for it, attack, bowl the way you want to bowl’, and I was a little bit, not shocked, but it gave me the confidence to go out there and give it everything I had.
“Maybe a change of mentality allowed me to bowl a bit more attackingly as a player and it was fun. I want to be the best I can be at both batting and bowling, I don’t really want to pigeonhole one of them. No doubt as an allrounder at times you certainly hit them better than you’re bowling or vice versa but that’s just something that happens in cricket I guess as an allrounder. I want to be the best allrounder I can be in both facets of the game."
Meanwhile, Jos Buttler, who counter attacked with an unbeaten half-century, said he was happy to have some ‘fun’ after a tough summer.
“If you bowl well, there’s wickets there, but if you bat well and apply yourself there’s runs there," Buttler told Sky Sports. “We’ll hopefully try to get a few more in the morning."
“It was tough to start with. I’ve found batting tough all summer in this series so it was nice in the end to take the shackles off and try to have some fun."