Decoding the enforcer in Mitchell Marsh | Cricket

There must be something karmic about Mitchell Marsh turning up for a World Cup semi-final at the ground his father Geoff was an intrinsic part of Australia’s first World Cup win 36 years ago. What a way to check in too. Scoring 177 off 132 balls against Bangladesh in Australia’s highest successful World Cup chase — also only the second instance of a team chasing more than 300 in this World Cup — this was a hundred unlike his previous ones, coming in circumstances deeply emotional after bidding adieu to his beloved ‘Pop’, grandfather Ross.

Australia's Mitchell Marsh celebrates his half-century with Steven Smith (ANI )
Australia’s Mitchell Marsh celebrates his half-century with Steven Smith (ANI )

That hundred must mean something to Marsh, beyond the usual degree of satisfaction such feats usually invoke. Equally ominous is how it has also aligned itself perfectly with the plucky message Marsh had left with Marcus Stoinis when he had to dash home to deal with his loss. “He sent me a message last night saying, ‘I’ll be home for a little bit and then I’m coming back to win this World Cup’ so that speaks to his mindset I think,” Stoinis said later. By Sunday night, we will know if this was deja vu of Steve Waugh proportions but for now, let’s just decode the phenomenon that is Mitchell Marsh.

Thrust into the sport as a son, then as a brother, trying to live up to the immeasurable stature of one of the most famous cricket surnames in Australia while trying to fine tune an allrounder’s role, Mitchell was probably nudged into biting off more than he could chew. In the pecking order of allrounder pedigree, Marsh figures in the mid-tier despite bowling pretty quick.

Twelve years into an international career that hasn’t taken into its confidence any particular format, Marsh however has managed to stay indispensable, especially in white-ball cricket. One down for 15 in the third over of the 2021 T20 World Cup final, Australia chased down 173 with an over to spare courtesy a calculated onslaught from Marsh. And now, he has two hundreds at different positions in an ODI World Cup that has already assumed deeper meaning personally.

The 177 was a daddy hundred, yet it wasn’t its scale that was overwhelming. More riveting was the way it was achieved. Nine sixes and 17 fours, accelerating from the second ball he had faced till reaching 100 in 87 balls before launching a second, more devastating offensive, Marsh epitomised belligerence like only few have in this World Cup.

And that’s where Australia must be feeling lucky. Their batting has largely had an orderly look now, where Travis Head and David Warner set the tone before Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne are expected to consolidate. Head has gone off the boil after that sensational hundred against New Zealand at Dharamsala. Smith hasn’t converted his starts but has stayed relevant, and the same could be said of Labuschagne too. This leaves Marsh as the only enforcer.

And Australia need an enforcer, here at Eden Gardens of all places, where batters tend to get bogged down in the middle overs. Not everyone is as skilled as Smith or Labuschagne to steer the innings to safety. And normal stability alone may not suffice here. If there is someone who can take conditions out of the equation, it’s Head or Marsh. Current form puts Marsh ahead, not only because a batter is as good as his last innings, but also because he knows how to get into demolishing mode very quickly irrespective of conditions. It was evident in the way he took the attack to New Zealand in the 2021 final, Pune reinforcing that belief with a solid hundred.

From Dubai to Pune, the conditions hadn’t changed much except for Bangladesh’s bowling that really comes into its own once spinners take over. But Marsh didn’t let the momentum flag in the middle overs, taking heavy toll, particularly on Mehidy Hasan Miraz’s off-breaks. This, after bowling medium pace for four overs and still getting used to a different batting position, at No 3. Yet there was nothing much to differentiate between this and the hundred he had hammered opening the batting against Pakistan.

“I sort of knew that when Heady came back in that I was gonna go down to three,” Marsh had said when asked about the switch to No. 3. “I think the most important thing for me is to play with that same intent and back myself. And I guess that’s the sort of way we wanna play our cricket. Me coming in at 3 and keep trying to apply the pressure. I probably had a few games in the middle of the tournament where I lost my intent. So, it was really good to sort of learn quickly and back myself. I’m probably gonna fail a few times, but hopefully, I come off more than I don’t.”

Words like ‘intent’ tend to be tossed around too much these days. But when characters like Marsh don’t make much of mid-tournament batting order switches, cope with grief, bowl with honesty, deliver hundreds and still be prudent enough to accede to the chance of failure, you know it to be an organic reaction to the vagaries of life. You can’t help but appreciate the genuineness of it all, before actually starting to wonder how far Marsh is willing to push himself to walk his talk of ‘coming back to win this World Cup’.

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