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Marsh Continues to Plunder Freely in Coloured Clothes

Adam Collins |January 16, 2019, 2:21 PM IST
Marsh Continues to Plunder Freely in Coloured Clothes

Of all the criticism levelled against Shaun Marsh this summer, much of it (most of it) withering, the charge that must sting the West Australian most is that he didn’t step up. In the aftermath of the sandpaper debacle, he was nowhere. Across the seven Tests that followed, the 35-year-old averaged 19 in the creams. He wasn’t the senior player that the circumstance required him to be, even if leadership was never his thing. Had he not been jettisoned from the Test squad last week, some sort of public demonstration could not have been completely ruled out.

Yet, not even a week on, it is Marsh who has again pushed himself forward as Australia’s most important limited overs cricketer in the final stages before a World Cup – a tournament that, remarkably, he has never featured in across 11 summers in the golden PJs.

The southpaw's flawless century in Tuesday's searing Adelaide heat continues an ODI streak as hot as his Test form was cold, all the more impressive for the proximity to his Test dumping. When he was brought back to the ODI squad for a tour to England last year, it was of such little consequence that it did not warrant a line in Cricket Austalia’s media release. But the inclusion made sense: without the banned players, Marsh was a known quantity, in a tour where the result – against the best team in the world – was a foregone conclusion.

In the eight games that have followed for Marsh in the format, he had now clocked four centuries to go with another half-century, averaging 67 with a strike rate of 100. It is very rare that numerical arguments have served this man well over his journey, but this is emphatic.

The substance of the knocks – especially the 131 in Cardiff that nearly secured a record chase and, coincidentally, the same score today – have been of the highest class, too. That none have been in winning efforts is frustrating but emblematic of the time that he had forged out this role. Through his actions, through this period, in this format, he has been the standard bearer.

It also brings into focus the incongruity of his overall ODI record, this just his 63rd ODI since making his bow in the Caribbean in 2008 after blowing the doors down in the inaugural Indian Premier League, the player of the tournament at the first time of asking. To say he had been the spare pair of hands in the years that have followed, rather than an established player, puts it mildly.

(AP Image) (AP Image)

Working backwards, he played in New Zealand in early 2017 when so many batsmen were injured or rested that Sam Heazlett got a debut despite having never played a 50-over game for his state. The year before, he won a single ODI in Dambulla, another in Auckland and three at home. In 2015, it was one before the World Cup, a tournament he was as likely to feature in when the final squad was announced as he was to walk on the moon.

The pattern continued in 2014 when he picked up just four caps, there was a single game the summer before in Australia, four more overseas in the football season. Then, nothing in 2012 after he punted before the World Cup in 2011 having played more often than not in the three years following his debut made while Nathan Bracken was around. Little wonder he is making a period of true incumbency, belated as it might be, really count.

Maybe he was misunderstood and a much better white-ball player all along? It’s the view of one former Test player, who told Cricketnext that has always been the case in domestic cricket at home, in England or India, which always made the priority placed on his red ball cricket a fraction odd. After all, his dad, Geoff, had a better ODI record than he did in Tests, ensuring, with a masterful ton, that Australia made the 1987 World Cup Final.

“I thought Shaun Marsh’s innings was absolutely brilliant,” Justin Langer, his coach and mentor said after the narrow loss. “I’m also really proud of the way [he’s responded] after not being selected for the next Test series against Sri Lanka. With that pressure, a lot of guys can shrivel up, but he hasn’t, he’s stood tall. I’m really proud of Shaun.”

Asked whether it is a shame that he has turned out so infrequently for Australia over such a long period of time, Langer was focussed on the present opportunity. “Hindsight’s a brilliant thing isn’t it?” Langer said. “Hopefully he’s still got a few more for us. He’ll be a big part of our World Cup campaign. He’s a leader of our group. He’s such a terrific person around the group. He’s an ultra-professional. Every time he walks to the wicket, whether it’s in a red-ball or white-ball, we just all want him to do well, because he’s such a good person, so it’s great to see him doing well.”

With Steve Smith’s participation in the World Cup less certain now than ever due to elbow surgery, Marsh is backbone at a time when he has never been better. He may have missed his chance to take ownership of the Test side in its time of trial, but in four months he has the chance to defend the trophy that matters more than any other. There might just be a chapter or two left in this sprawling story yet

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