Three months of outstanding performances from the talented young allrounder has everyone talking – and waiting to see what comes next
The cosmopolitan city of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates is a strange destination for the unfolding of a potentially seismic shift in Australian cricket.
Better known for its overwhelming opulence and dizzying skyscrapers, the tourist mecca will next month play host to Australia’s first Test against Pakistan.
And it is increasingly likely that match will feature the debut of Mitchell Ross Marsh.
It was around a decade ago that another allrounder started making waves in this country.
Bowling at more than 140kph and boasting an immaculate technique with the power to match, Shane Watson attracted headlines in a hurry.
The strapping Queenslander was quickly dubbed the next big thing; this country’s answer to Andrew Flintoff; and a young man destined to sit comfortably alongside a galaxy of stars in an all-conquering national side.
The similarities between a 22-year-old Watson and a 22-year-old Marsh are patently clear: the all-round cricket gifts, the imposing physiques, even the injuries.
Ironically, it’s the latter that has been most telling in Marsh getting his opportunity in the back half of 2014.
Simply put, he’s stayed fit, and Watson hasn’t – a fact Marsh himself identified this week.
“Over the last 12 months I’ve got a lot more confidence in my body to handle bowling workloads and trust my body,” he told cricket.com.au.
“I’ve worked very hard to get stronger in my body, which was something I needed with the injury setbacks I’ve had, so at this stage I’m confident (I can) do a (bowling) role for the team.”
And while we’ve seen Marsh’s potential in fits and starts over the past few years, there’s been nothing as concentrated as what’s occurred since early July, when he rescued Australia A from dire straits against India A with a stunning 211 in Brisbane.
Since, he’s cleaned up Australia’s National Performance Squad with a five-wicket haul in Darwin, collected a pair of man-of-the-match awards for Australia’s ODI team in Zimbabwe, and singlehandedly secured victory for Perth Scorchers in their opening match of the Oppo Champions League Twenty20.
“He’s certainly gaining the results of his life,” said Adam Gilchrist, a man who knows exactly what it takes to successfully juggle dual responsibilities at the highest level.
“Every time he steps out he’s contributing in some way, shape or form.
“That seems to be with a level head and a newfound maturity to focus on the job at hand, (and it’s) auguring well for him should he be named in that first Test team.”
Watson too, has observed the development of a young man he has mentored in recent times, and will likely compete with for a spot in Australia’s best XI – whatever the format – once he returns from injury.
“He (Marsh) improved a lot in the last three months because he’s played the recent (Australia) A series and he’s been able to put some quality cricket together,” Watson said.
“He’s gained more confidence in his body so his pace is up, and he’s tall so he gets bounce as well.
“It was extremely impressive to see the way he batted (in Zimbabwe).”
Marsh rued the absence of Watson from Australia’s camp in Zimbabwe, with the blossoming star having previously benefited from the experience of his senior counterpart.
“It’s obviously very disappointing for Shane to be injured, it’s another setback for him,” he continued.
“I sent him a text and heard back, just to say, ‘Sorry to hear the news’.
“It’s a shame that I haven’t been able to be around him in the squad over the last few months but I’m looking forward to hopefully playing together in the future.”
For now, Marsh is streaking ahead without the veteran’s assistance.
In Dubai, against the world’s No.6 ranked Test nation minus their best bowler, he is likely to receive a golden opportunity to stake his claim as Australia’s number one allrounder.
Six months ago, he might have been considered fourth on that list, behind Watson, James Faulkner and Moises Henriques.
But Watson, despite his obvious gifts, also reads as a cautionary tale – a fact that Gilchrist is experienced enough to recognise.
“(Marsh’s) biggest issue to this point is, and will continue to be, injuries, and making sure he maintains a fit body,” the 96-Test legend added.
“He’s put a lot of work into that – he stayed at home for the winter, didn’t play IPL or county, so that’s fantastic to know he’s focusing on those broader issues rather than chasing money or just trying to go out and bat or bowl; he’s trying that holistic approach and it looks good.
“He’s doing everything possible to get it right.
“He’s clearly extremely talented, but he needs to maintain the level of performance to keep pushing the door down.
“Part of that is maintaining fitness, so he’s doing everything he can to get to that level.”
mportantly, and in addition to Gilchrist, the Marsh endorsements have come from the right sources.
Current Test quick Ryan Harris and selector Rod Marsh have both been impressed by the tall right-armer’s ability and pace with the ball, while earlier this week Mitchell Johnson told cricket.com.au he viewed Marsh as “a huge chance” to play in Dubai.
“Especially in those conditions, to have that type of allrounder (is ideal),” Johnson added.
Michael Clarke also feels the allrounder is equipped for Test cricket, admitting that his elevation up the order during the recent ODI tri-series had been with an eye to the future.
Quick Single: Watson as important as ever: Clarke
“(Watson’s unavailability) was a big part of why I gave him an opportunity to bat at No.3 in Zimbabwe,” Clarke said.
“If conditions (in Pakistan) are conducive to playing that allrounder, I’m sure Mitch will do fantastic.
“He’s ready for Twenty20 cricket, one-day cricket and Test cricket, now it’s about getting an opportunity.
“The selectors will make that decision, and I’m sure he’ll grab it with both hands.
“He’s as ready as I’ve seen him, so I think if he’s given the chance in any format, he’ll do well.”
Typically, the man himself is refusing to enter into the hype.
“Like every cricketer says I guess, it would be a dream come true,” Marsh told us.
“Something that every young cricketer aspires to do is play Test cricket for Australia, especially Test cricket, and it’s something I’d be very excited about if I get the opportunity.”
via Cricket Australia News