Fitness issues, personal loss, public criticism – Australia all-rounder Mitchell Marsh put it all behind him to finish day one of the fifth Ashes Test with a career-best 4/35.
Having run drinks all through the series before Thursday, 12 September, it was as if “Christmas” had come when he was named in the XI for the final Test. Given the licence to attack by coach Justin Langer, Marsh was confident, quick, and got the Dukes ball to swing, scalping the wickets of Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Sam Curran and Chris Woakes.
Marsh’s performance not only helped keep England to 271/8 by stumps, it also papered over lapses on the field and seemed to back Tim Paine’s unexpected decision to bowl first.
The all-rounder, playing his first Test since last year’s Boxing Day Test against India, was delighted with his comeback. He saw it as the product of five months of hard work and felt it justified the lifestyle changes he was forced to make after he lost his way a little.
“I lost a close friend to suicide. When things like that happen, I didn’t handle it as well as I could have,” Marsh said, looking back on a difficult year. “It transitioned into my cricket at times as well. I understand everyone goes through tough periods in their life – I certainly didn’t handle that as best as I could.
“To have gone through that and got through the summer the way that I did, and finish for WA [Western Australia], I knew I still had a love for the game. It was a tough summer last year, I tried to put it behind me as quickly as possible.
“When you play cricket and you want to do well and it doesn’t work out, it’s very easy to get down on yourself,” he went on. “I was certainly at that stage, so I did a lot of work with our sports psychologist Matt Burgin at WA about detaching myself from the outcome, working as hard as I can, getting as fit as I can and preparing well.”
Fitness has been a big part of Marsh’s comeback. Both Langer and Paine have urged him to get fitter and do for Australia what Ben Stokes does for England. Marsh said he’d taken on board the suggestion, and while he had always eaten healthy – “My body just likes to put on weight easily, and my mum likes to feed me” – he has cut down on portion sizes.
“I certainly worked hard the last five months to get an opportunity again. As a professional athlete, when you have setbacks, you think the worst, think you might not play again after the summer I had last year,” he explained. “I wanted to come here and have a positive influence on the group.”
Playing his 32nd Test in a start-stop red-ball career, Marsh has been a divisive pick for Australian fans, but he remains determined to give it his best and maybe, finally, win the public over.
“Most of Australia hate me,” he joked. “Australians are passionate, they love their cricket, they want people to do well. There’s no doubt that I’ve had a lot of opportunity at Test level and I haven’t quite nailed it, but hopefully they can respect me for the fact I keep coming back.
“I love playing for Australia, I love wearing the baggy green cap. I keep trying. Hopefully, I win them over one day.”