Ashes 2019: ‘Hated’ Mitchell Marsh the unlikely foe who ripped through England

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Men’s Ashes: England v Australia, fifth Specsavers Test (day one of five)
England 271-8: Buttler 64*, Root 57, M Marsh 4-35
Australia: Yet to bat

Of all the bowlers who were going to rip through England’s batting line-up, Mitchell Marsh wasn’t supposed to be one of them.

He’s no speed demon like Pat Cummins. He doesn’t have Mitchell Starc’s awkward left-arm angle, nor Josh Hazlewood’s unerring accuracy.

He’s a bustling medium-pacer with a modest bowling record (35 Test wickets at 43.91 going into this game). He was dropped from all formats during Australia’s last cricketing summer and lost his central contact in April during a difficult year.

Marsh is a divisive figure back home – “yeah, most of Australia hates me!” he said after play – because, well, he hasn’t ever lived up to his potential.

An all-rounder who all-too-often sees one facet fire and the other fail. The son of a legend (Geoff) mean the whispers of “he’s only picked because of his name” have followed him throughout his career.

But on day one of the fifth Ashes Test he was faced with an England batting line-up that will collapse if someone sneezes next to it. He saw the script – a day that was going all wrong for Australia, from the decision at the toss to the sloppy fielding – and he rewrote it.

For the first few hours at The Oval, things went England’s way. Catches were dropped. Misfields occurred. Australia looked like they were still feeling the effects of their post-Old Trafford party.

And then, everything quite literally swung back in Australia’s favour. Of course it did. Because this is the Ashes, and this is England, and this is Australia, and this is what happens in this ridiculous series.

And it was Marsh who was at the heart of it. Marsh wasn’t there as a frontline bowler. He was in to lighten the workload on Cummins’ shoulders, take some heat out of the tiring legs of the best bowler in the world.

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But Marsh got the ball to move. To swing through the air at a decent speed and dazzle the England batsmen.

This wasn’t how it was meant to be. Marsh has been with the touring party since July and not played. He’s spent more time in a luminous bib, running the drinks, than he has with ball in hand on this tour, which has also taken in a seven-week long World Cup.

Australia, the script said, had picked the wrong team. They’d made the wrong call at the toss. They dropped four catches. They slipped in the field.

And yet, England were eight down by the end of the day. England collapsed. England played poor shots. England had to rely on a late flourish from Jos Buttler, counter-attacking on a day when counter-attacking should not have crossed anyone’s mind, to take them to what resembles a half-decent score.

Marsh would have allowed himself a wry smile at the end of play. He is an amiable figure – he admitted that his body puts on weight easily. “I don’t necessarily eat that bad, I’m just a big eater,” he laughed afterwards. “My mum likes to feed me.”

But for Marsh, playing in this Test was like being a kid at Christmas. He has matured over the past few years. He was axed from an Australia A tour in 2012 after staying out too late celebrating his 21st birthday and there was talk that his fitness was not up to scratch.

Long-held suspicions have been hard to cast off.

Last year was a difficult one for him, on and off the field. He lost a close friend to suicide and, in his own words, he “didn’t handle it well”. It took Marsh time to come to turns with what is, for anyone, a tragic situation. He worked with his state’s sports psychologist. He measured his diet. He went out there and, to borrow a half-mantra from Buttler’s bat, said ‘sod it’.

And it has worked. Marsh has made his own luck. He turned what could have been a chastening day for Australia on its head. And, just maybe, he might not be hated back home by the time this Test ends.

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