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Cricket news - Determined Marsh beats England down to size
Mitchell Marsh is a big boy. It's pretty much what you hear every single time his name props up. And for good reason too. For, the youngest member of the Marsh cricketing clan is indeed a big boy, a bit unit, a big lad. In Derby, when they batted together, he made Usman Khawaja look half his size in comparison. For a long time in Marsh's career, right from youth cricket to even now, big has also meant fat.
Growing up, the story goes that, he would spend his first few days back in the youth academy setup without fail only running laps, having invariably returned from the break with some extra kilos on him. As he would reveal on Thursday (September 12) at The Oval, it's an issue that hasn't left him still.
"My body just likes to put on weight easily, and my mum likes to feed me. I haven't had as many roasts at home in the last six months," he would reveal on a day he'd made a comeback to Test cricket and finished with game-changing figures of 4/35 in 16.1 overs.
Cricket's not a sport that indulges too often in body-shaming. It is after all a sport that is for all shapes, even if the likes of Virat Kohli might have engineered a fitness revolution where size zero with rippling muscles is what's in vogue. And the junior Marsh has by no means been overweight in the very obvious way either. There's just too much of him in terms of body to make up for the excess load that he might be carrying. If anything, it's more athletically than aesthetically that Marsh's weight gain has affected his career. And it's often as a result been identified by both selectors and Marsh himself as a recurring problem. And it's no surprise that Tim Paine brought it up on the eve of the final Test here soon after announcing the all-rounder's return to the Test team.
"Obviously if you're a boy the size he is, it's hard to run in all day when you're carrying a few extra kilos," the captain had said. It was also the message that Marsh had been given by the powers that be during the Australian home summer, which he started as Test vice-captain set to bat in the top-order and finished not only out of the squad but seemingly off the scene. To the extent that his selection for the Ashes squad looked more a result of him being the default all-rounder in the Australian setup rather than him being picked to play any specific role, before he was a surprise pick for The Oval.
After the brief indulgence in highlighting Marsh's weight issues of the past, Paine had also talked up how the Western Australian had worked his backside off to reach the kind of fitness that was expected of him to play a dual role at the highest level. And as he ran in at full tilt for the eight-over burst in the final session on Day One and knocked out the English middle-order, you could see what Paine was talking about.
It wasn't a kind of holding spell you'd expect to see from the fourth seamer, picked specifically to provide rest for the specialists in the side. Marsh wasn't just running in with his tail up ball after ball, he was also generating movement in the air and at times off the pitch better than any of his other pace bowling colleagues. He'd done a similar job during the tour match in Derby, especially in terms of moving the Dukes ball around. But that was against a substandard county batting line-up. Here against the English batting line-up with a rare series win on the line, he was steaming in and making inroads while getting the ball to hoop around in conditions where the others had found minimal assistance. He would reveal later that coach Justin Langer had asked him to be aggressive and literally take up the mantle from the likes of the tiring Cummins and Hazlewood. And that's exactly what he did here.
Paine had also indicated on the eve of the match that the team management had spoken to Marsh about how they wanted him to reach the kind of fitness needed to replicate the impact Ben Stokes has had on this series with bat and ball. And he couldn't have fulfilled his captain's wishes better, starting with for good measure getting rid of Stokes in his second spell. His 3/17 in the 8-over burst post the tea-break though is where both Marsh's fitness and his will to play for the Baggy Green came through. It wasn't just the fact that he was bowling yorkers and getting wickets with them like how you'd have expected the other Mitchell in the bowling attack to have done. It was the intensity of his celebrations, the intensity of his annoyance with himself the rare occasion he slipped a ball down leg-side and the intensity with which he's run in all series, whether it was in the nets or in the tour matches. Mitchell Marsh was here making a point and looking fitter than ever before while doing so.
Australia don't do all-rounders too well. The times they have, when Shane Watson was around, they've preferred for him to be a steady operator who provides the odd breakthrough but more importantly keeps the game in check for the bigger, nastier fast bowlers to come and blow teams away. This is a different Australia though and with the premier fast bowlers more content on hitting the right lengths and prising batsmen out, Marsh was allowed to steam in and be the aggressor and it clearly paid off. All that work he'd put in with his backside - and yes with most overweight talk there was a lot of talk about his bum in the post match press conference - was coming to the fore.
"I don't necessarily eat that bad, I'm just a big eater. I have probably cut down on my portion sizes a fair bit. There's no secrete JL challenged me from a fitness perspective," he's say about his voracious appetite later in the day. He'd also then talk about his voracious appetite in wanting to play Test cricket for Australia.
Few Australian cricketers have divided opinions like the Marsh brothers though. And there were many who weren't too chuffed about the all-rounder getting picked at The Oval. But like with his fitness, Marsh is very aware of what Australia thinks of him, most of it anyway, and was rather charming in the way he dealt with being asked about it.
"Most of Australia hate me. (laughs) 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," he said.
He certainly did go a long way in doing so on a day where he pulled his weight like he's rarely done with the ball in Test cricket.
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