Shaun Marsh – Australian cricket’s great enigma
Date: October 25, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell
Once again it is that time of the year when cricket fans don their selector’s hat and aim to come up with the side that will roll out to represent us all at the summer’s opening Test at the Gabba.
The machinations take on an even more important tone this time around because it’s an Ashes summer – selections need to be prudent, well thought out and largely backed up by favourable statistics.
Given they are the criteria, why then do so many people still believe that Shaun Marsh is in the frame for a Test recall?
Warnie may be long gone – in fact this is perhaps the first lead in to a season since he hung up his baggy green for the final time in January 2007 that he has not been put out there in the public domain as a possible saviour – but he had a record that suggested he perhaps could have sauntered back into the fold after several years out and still been the country’s best spinner.
Shaun Marsh, however, is a very different kettle of fish.
He may have the pedigree for he is the son of a former Test vice-captain and national coach.
He may also have an array of shots that can at times bedazzle.
But truth be known, for all the predictions of greatness bestowed on him whilst still a teenager by the likes of Steve Waugh, his career has at fist-class level failed to flatter.
Yet, any time lately there is a hiccup in the Test top-order many see Marsh as the remedy to the woes.
Such a belief must surely be arrived at by virtue of the heart rather than the head.
Once the junior Marsh decided to angle his sporting pursuits towards cricket there was always going to be a modicum of unwanted baggage with his name always intrinsically linked with his father Geoff, a veteran of 50 Tests.
In essence, the similarity pretty much stops with the surname.
Dad was a right-hander while the son is a southpaw.
Geoff was a man who lacked the natural flair of most of his contemporaries but he never lacked commitment and he gained kudos for his doggedness and determination at the crease.
His heavily bottom-handed technique wasn’t pretty but it got the job done in an era when opening the batting internationally was often unpleasant.
Shaun is everything his father wasn’t with willow in hand – dashing, flamboyant, risk taking.
Those who followed cricket in the West were well aware of the younger Marsh’s seemingly inexorable march toward first-class ranks well before the rest of the country.
His first real taste of national exposure came on the back of a captivating maiden first-class century in a Sheffield match against New South Wales in Newcastle in 2002-03.
He reached triple figures with two audaciously launched blows that cleared the mid-wicket rope of Mark Waugh.
When stumps were drawn, the elder Waugh twin described Marsh’s innings as the best he had ever seen by a 19-year-old – quite some comment from a man who has never been known for hyperbole.
Still yet to enter his twenties, Marsh seemed to have the cricketing world at his feet.
But those feet unfortunately too often resembled clay.
Wind the clock forward eleven summers, and at 30 years of age, Marsh has been able to add just six more first-class centuries to the one that had the Waugh twins agog.
And it is worth noting that one of those subsequent tons came on his Test debut against Sri Lanka at Pallekele in September 2011.
Batting at number three he stroked his way to a patient and controlled knock of 141.
He followed that up with an innings of 81 in his next Test on that tour.
Despite having been elevated to Test ranks on the back of an 11-year first-class average of just 37.7 it appeared that perhaps he did have the game and mindset that would decry that parlous statistic.
However, like his arrival in Test ranks, his departure was just as meteoric.
Over the next four months he played a further five Tests before being dropped.
His last seven innings spanned just 55 balls during which he eked out a mere 17 runs alongside four ducks.
It was a mighty fall from grace and centre stage.
His maiden Test century scored over 24 months ago remains his last at first-class level.
Last summer he was fortunate to hold his place in the Warriors XI with a Shield average of just 19.
Yet the national selectors continue to hope for some cricketing miracle that will see him migrate from a 30-year-old with a first-class career average of 35.1 into a regular and productive Test batsman.
Despite last summer’s damning performance for WA he was still chosen for Australia A’s recent first-class tour of South Africa and Zimbabwe where he finished with an average of 13.2.
Like Shane Watson, the bulk of Marsh’s favourable work with the willow has been done in coloured clothing.
He has had far greater success as a limited-overs player for his country with a 41-match average of 38.2 with three centuries.
Snapped up for a bargain price ahead of the 2008 IPL season and despite missing the first four games for the Kings XI Punjab he finished the tournament as the league’s leading run-scorer and earned a place in the inaugural IPL Dream Team alongside names like Warne, McGrath and Sangakkara.
Once again, the start of this summer has seen Marsh excel in the pyjama format with his four innings for the Warriors in the Ryobi Cup realising scores of 47, 54, 84 and 119.
And, once again, his abilities and record in the shorter forms of the game are fuelling in some people’s minds a possible Test recall this summer.
If he is selected to play in the Ashes series it will say more about the state of Australian cricket than the state of his own game.
At 30 years of age, the door has not yet been bolted shut, but he would need a stellar Shield season and a solid follow-up to be worthy of consideration for a recall to Test ranks.
There is no doubting that Marsh has the ability for he has shown glimpses of it throughout his career.
The time has well and truly arrived where he needs to make good his talents on a consistent basis otherwise it will be a case of him squandering an opportunity when it comes to playing the ultimate form of the sport.
First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 24 October 2013