It was all following a hauntingly familiar script for Mitch Marsh.
Just two matches into the T20 World Cup, Marsh was axed from Australia’s XI, and destined to leave another promise unfulfilled.
The right-hander had entered the tournament as Australia’s most in-form white ball batter following a steady rise since late 2019.
An extended run in the team and a chance to become one of Australia’s go-to players beckoned.
Just two games later it appeared to have turned to dust once again when he was dropped for Ashton Agar.
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What came next might be one of the greatest things to happen in the roller-coaster career of Marsh.
Australia was rollicked by its oldest rival, England, who made a mockery of the selectors’ decision to play the match-ups by adding a left-hand spinner over Marsh.
Now standing on the brink of elimination, Australia swiftly restored the right-hander who went on to change the entire nation’s fortunes at the tournament.
Batting at No.3, Marsh stood tall to average 87 across the final four matches with a strike rate of 159.63.
His finest hour came under the most intense pressure. He came to the crease in the third over of the final at 1-15 while chasing New Zealand’s 4-172 to claim Australia’s first men’s T20 World Cup crown.
Marsh blasted an unbeaten 77 from 50 balls to guide Australia to victory with seven balls remaining, securing himself the ultimate moment of redemption in the process.
For years, it was hoped that the twisting tale of Marsh’s international career would end with a solidified Test spot – but that World Cup moment was arguably just as glorious.
It certainly went a long way to Marsh, strangely maligned by the Australian public for so long despite his friendly persona, changing his image.
“There’s no doubt post World Cup I felt a lot of love,” Marsh told foxsports.com.au in an exclusive interview before the home summer.
“Probably not just (from) Australian fans but around the world.
“That was an incredible feeling.”
‘MOST OF AUSTRALIA HATE ME’
Marsh became a soft target for cricket fans early in his Test career having been granted an extended run in Australia’s XI despite lacklustre performances.
Between his October 2014 debut and the 2017-18 Ashes, Marsh played 21 Tests – only Steve Smith, David Warner, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc played more – despite averaging just 21.74 with the bat.
He made only two fifties in 35 innings, while his bowling numbers of 29 wickets at 37.48 (economy 3.43) were also a source of frustration.
A breakout performance at the Ashes eventually came with Marsh making 181, 9, 29* and 101 in his three Tests that series.
The scores were suggestive of a new chapter in the Test career of Marsh, but it would soon be derailed again.
Marsh became Test vice-captain in the wake of the Cape Town ball-tampering scandal, but in his first series in the new role, averaged 7.50 against Pakistan and was dropped.
The Marsh naysayers rejoiced, feeling vindicated by his downturn.
It should be said that some of the hate towards Marsh came from wildly off-the-mark claims of nepotism, despite the fact that Australia great Geoff Marsh is Mitch’s father, and not Rod Marsh, who was a selector between 2011 and 2017.
Marsh has only played two Tests since; against India at the MCG in December 2018, and against England at The Oval in September 2019.
During the former, a section of Australian fans booed when Marsh was called on to bowl having replaced Victorian Peter Handscomb in the XI.
During the latter, Marsh confirmed he knew where he stood with the public.
“Yeah, most of Australia hate me,” he said at The Oval, only half-joking.
“Australians are very passionate, they love their cricket, they want people to do well.
“There’s no doubt I’ve had a lot of opportunities 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.”
It was a refreshing insight from Marsh, shunning the typical rhetoric of professional sportspeople who claim to be immune to public criticism.
Equally refreshing, however, was the 30-year-old’s honesty last month, when asked by foxsports.com.au about finally winning over fans after the World Cup.
“It’s not that you seek that sort of stuff, but when you work extremely hard and sacrifice a lot to get to a certain point where you can contribute like that in a World Cup final, it was certainly a nice time to sit back and reflect,” Marsh said.
“But ultimately two weeks after that it’s back to work and you’re back on the grind and striving to achieve other things. One of those being able to defend the World Cup.
“But I certainly felt the love and it was an incredible experience.”
‘HUGE’ TEST AMBITIONS BURN BRIGHT
Marsh has had a troubled run for Australia since with multiple injuries interrupting his build-up to this year’s title defence.
The all-rounder was rested from Australia’s five-match series against Sri Lanka in March with one eye on the Pakistan tour, which he missed anyway due to a hip injury.
Marsh has since played in four ODIs and two T20s before he was on the sidelines again, this time nursing an ankle injury.
He’s expected to be fit for the World Cup, starting on October 16, and once again will have a major role to play for the hosts.
But Marsh is too young, and has come too far, to consider himself as merely a white ball specialist.
Asked if he still has ambitions of playing Test cricket again, Marsh left no doubt about his goals.
“Yeah, huge ambitions,” Marsh said.
“I’m realistic in the fact that I know that whilst I’m in the squad and reasonably close, in the same sentence I’m probably not that close. The Test team is very settled.
“I’m hopeful I’ll get one more opportunity, one more crack to play Test cricket but, for now, I’m enjoying being around the squad.
“I worked really hard to get myself in a position to be back in contention for Test cricket.”
Finding a viable route back into Australia’s Test team is the hard part with Pat Cummins’ side largely settled following last summer’s Ashes demolition, a 1-0 series win in Pakistan, and a 1-1 draw in Sri Lanka.
Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith are locks at No.3 and No.4 respectively, Travis Head was player-of-the-Ashes at No.5, while Cameron Green could have a mortgage on his all-rounder position for more than a decade.
There’s simply no room for Marsh as things stand. The irony is that he says he’s never been better prepared to play Test cricket.
Turning 31 in October, Marsh is in his prime, while experiences on and off the field have forged a more relaxed character who can better roll with the punches.
Prior to last year’s World Cup, Shaun Marsh said that his brother – who was engaged a year ago – had found a happiness off the field that helped him 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…”
Asked if he now feels ready to play Test cricket again, Marsh said the past 12 months have taken him to his best position yet.
“I’ve learnt so much over the last few years both on and off the field that I’m hopeful where I get another chance I can make it worthwhile,” Marsh said.
“I think the way I go about my work, go about my training, go about my preparation, the way I’ve been able to probably enjoy playing the game a bit more without putting added pressure on myself, I think that comes from a lot of things over my career.
“Growing up a bit, gaining a bit more perspective on life and, you know, just enjoying my unbelievably lucky position I’m in to play cricket for Australia.
“That’s come out in the way I’ve played in the last 12 months in white ball cricket. I’ve been able to just relax and enjoy the game.”
Marsh isn’t sure how he can break into Australia’s XI for a 33rd Test appearance, but is well aware that a chance can materialise in a heartbeat.
You don’t need to look any further than last summer, when Usman Khawaja found himself playing Test cricket again at 35 years old after Head contracted Covid.
The left-hander promptly scored centuries in both innings to make himself undroppable. He now sits at the top of Australia’s order alongside Warner.
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Similarly, Scott Boland was a shock Test debutant last summer after earning a horses-for-courses style selection at the MCG, where he took scarcely believable figures of 6-7.
As such, Marsh knows that he’s never as far away from returning to Test cricket as he may seem.
“I’m really hopeful that all the work that I’ve done, if I was to get another chance in Test match cricket, that all that work would allow me to have that same (relaxed) attitude,” Marsh said.
“I know with that attitude and the way I go about things now that I can succeed at the highest level against anyone in the world and, ultimately, that belief is what separates people from succeeding at highest level and not.
“So time will tell.”
‘AN AMAZING BOND’
Marsh’s next chance to play Test cricket will come in late November when the West Indies visit for a two-Test series, followed by three matches against South Africa.
He will, however, have virtually no red ball form to go off with Australia’s World Cup campaign lasting until mid-November, if it makes the finals.
Marsh has experienced the pandemonium of a World Cup on home soil before having played three matches at 2015’s 50-over edition.
Australia won that year, while the national women’s team also won a home T20 World Cup in 2020.
Now Marsh’s priority lies in recreating another magical moment for this generation with his Test future on hold.
“I’m very excited. It’s going to be exciting, it’s a huge build up,” Marsh said.
“Having played a very, very small part in the 2015 World Cup, I feel like I understand how big it is to play in a home World Cup. And I know that once footy’s finished, people are going to really get behind it, we’re going to play in front of some huge crowds. (It will be a) awesome experience.
“It’s very rare people get to defend a title and, I guess, the one good thing about having the World Cup in back-to-back years is that our team’s not going to change much. The same team that stood on the podium last year you hope will be very, very similar this year.
“That group shares an amazing bond now which is really important in big tournament.
“So I absolutely can’t wait.”