Sport can be cruel. Those rare Hollywood type endings, like afforded to Shane Warne or Glenn McGrath, rarely happen. For Shaun Marsh, his much-maligned international career may have ended in the most luckless fashion.
Marsh, who celebrated his 36th birthday on July 9, had his right wrist broken by fast bowler Pat Cummins while batting in the nets at Old Trafford ahead of Australia’s final pool match against South Africa.
With David Warner and Steve Smith back in the fold, the left-hander was selected as a reserve batsman and – like so often during his frustrating career – Marsh didn’t grab his opportunities when picked. He made just 23 and 3 against Pakistan and Sri Lanka respectively, and his World Cup appeared over as Australia seemingly found a better balance with the inclusion of allrounder Marcus Stoinis. Then it really was over when he copped Cummins’ friendly fire.
While unfortunate, Marsh’s injury seemed to be a minor blip for Australia even though the veteran is well regarded amongst the group as the consummate teammate. However, in a cruel twist, No.3 Usman Khawaja suffered a hamstring injury against South Africa ruling him out of the tournament and Australia suddenly needed a specialist batsman. Preferably, someone with the experience to handle the high stakes of the knockout stages.
Marsh, who prefers to bat in the top three in limited-overs cricket, would have been an ideal replacement. Quite clearly, it wasn’t meant to be for Marsh who most probably has played the last of his 38 Tests and 73 one-day internationals for Australia.
If this is how it ends, in a macabre sort of way, it’s fitting for a player whose career was hamstrung by injuries, inconsistency and misfortune. Perhaps Shane Watson aside, there hasn’t been a more polarising Australian player than Marsh.
Marsh has long been a whipping boy during a career that has teased numerously but underwhelmed. After debuting for Western Australia in the Sheffield Shield as a 17-year-old in 2000 – 2000! – Marsh’s precocious batting, where his sublime drives can cause a lump in one’s throat, made him a prodigy and naturally he was earmarked as a future star. Being the son of former Test opener and ex-coach Geoff Marsh made him even more hyped.
However, injuries and inconsistencies meant Marsh didn’t get a crack at Test cricket until 2011 at the age of 28. Instantly, he peeled off a memorable debut century in Sri Lanka before, bafflingly, enduring an embarrassing rut against the touring Indians several months later. It was one of the most humiliating efforts ever from an Australian batsman; he averaged a miserable 2.83 across six innings.
This was undoubtedly the nadir of his career. Marsh’s confidence was shattered and off-field distractions didn’t help him either. His undeniable talent was being squandered as he languished in Western Australia’s Second XI.
But then he had a timely intervention. Newly appointed Western Australian coach Justin Langer instantly made a beeline for Marsh to deliver a desperately needed pep talk. “I looked him in the face and I said ‘I will always love you but if you step out of place, you can’t be in the organisation… you can’t afford to make one mistake’,” Langer told me a few years back.
And Marsh heeded Langer’s ultimatum and has had a strong second half of his career, highlighted by being one of the very best batsmen in the Big Bash League. He was also persisted with by national selectors and there were some high points. He starred in the 2017-18 Ashes with a series-changing century in Adelaide in tough conditions and then scored a ton alongside brother Mitch in the series-finale in Sydney.
In the past 12 months, during such a torrid period for Australian cricket post ball-tampering scandal, Marsh had been the team’s top batsman in ODI cricket – justifying his World Cup selection despite a predictable chorus of naysayers. His overall average of 40 and seven hundreds is hardly shabby.
More importantly during this tumultuous time, Marsh became an important stabilising figure and much-needed sage. It was testament to his maturity, which blossomed once he became a husband and father.
Still, it’s likely Marsh will not be particularly fondly remembered. After continual inconsistencies, Marsh’s true calling seemed to lay at earning unexpected recalls. Some of the scorn was due to a belief that Marsh received nepotism considering his dad’s influential standing in the game. The truth is, it’s just so hard to discard someone who can play the most exquisite shots. Marsh was one of those rare players that you had to watch when he was on song. Maybe they should have been more calculated, but it’s easy to see how selectors were swayed by Marsh’s magic. They’re only human.
He certainly wasn’t a great – he only averaged 34 in Tests – but you won’t forget his best innings. That should mean something in a game so obsessed with stats. Most likely, he’ll fade away from memory relatively quickly.
However, he’s not done just yet. He has joined the Melbourne Renegades in the Big Bash League and you never know – maybe there will be another unexpected lifeline for Australia.
Whatever happens, despite all his flaws and underwhelming performances, one thing is undisputable.
Shaun Marsh’s cover drive was a thing of beauty.
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