Mitchell Marsh just wanted the chance to play one more Test for Australia. Four years had elapsed since his last outing and another allrounder had emerged, tipped to be a great player, but he kept hoping.
At Headingley, where English allrounders have done a thing or two in the past in Ashes Tests, Marsh produced an innings to go alongside them. Whether it will win Australia the match, and the series with two games to spare, will become clearer on the second day, but without him they would likely have been a long way behind.
“This thing,” Marsh said, pointing to his baggy green. “I wanted to wear it one more time and put it on again. There’s always times when you spend a lot of time away from the game where you think that you might not get back. It’s taken a lot of hard work.
“I’m really proud to be able to get back in this team. I feel a part of the squad even though I haven’t played a lot of Test cricket over the last couple of years. And I think that’s a testament to our leadership. That’s why we’ve had a lot of guys come in and contribute at different times and certain guys play unbelievably well.”
The Ashes tour had long been in Marsh’s sights, so much so that he opted to miss a large part of the last Australian season to have ankle surgery to ensure he was fit. He now has all three of his Test centuries against England along with his lone five-wicket haul.
“Ashes cricket is always something as a young kid you want to play in,” he said. “Coming in for lunch today [it] was probably some of the toughest conditions I’ve come in, in my Test career so far. Really proud of the work that I’ve done mentally to be able to overcome nerves and get into the contest as quickly as I possibly can. And I think that comes with a bit of age, bit of growth and probably a bit of time away from the game to work on certain things.”
With Cameron Green now being an all-format cricketer, and coming off the back a full IPL, Marsh thought there was a chance he would be needed although joked that he had become the first man to score a Test hundred “on a UK holiday”.
“My previous experience on long Test tours is you always get a chance at some stage,” he said. “Knew that Greeny was a little bit sore two days out, so I started to switch on a bit there. A day before the game… I knew that I was playing so it was nice to have a little bit of time to prepare mentally, for coming back into Test cricket.”
The lively Headingley pitch also helped Marsh feel at home, enabling him to play the sort of strokes he would at home in Perth especially in the contest against Mark Wood, who rarely slipped below 90mph.
“I probably just leaned on my experience of growing up at the WACA against fast bowling,” he said. “Sink or swim from a very early age. I thought it was a great contest between him and I.
“I have done a lot of work on the mental side of my game. People always talk about going out and playing a natural game, which in the Test cauldron, it’s not always easy. But today was as natural as it gets for me. I felt like I trusted my defence when I needed to.
“My technique’s not perfect, but I know when I move well enough and make good decisions mentally that I can defend balls and keep good balls out. Outside of that, I’m going play my shots and I got rewarded for that today.”
Although many of the players still have families on the tour, Marsh’s weren’t at Headingley for the moment with his father, Geoff, having flown to Bali for his brother, Shaun’s, 40th birthday. Shaun posted on social media showing the families’ joyous celebrations.
“Dad had just flown back… so he was mid-air when I found out that I was playing,” Marsh said. “But to be honest, I don’t think he was missing the 40th. That’s much more exciting. All my family and all of our close friends are celebrating there with Shaun so whilst they weren’t here, the video is bloody great.”
On the prospect of what comes next having given the selectors a tough decision, Marsh remained phlegmatic about potentially being back in the reserves. “I wouldn’t mind going back to my UK holiday to be honest,” he said. “Greeny can come back in. But we’ll see what happens.”
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo
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