Sunday 13 July 2014

A Swampy History

It is not often you see a big double in one innings matched by a big double from the other side, especially where the two double-centurions are batting at 7. That is what happened in the recently concluded Australia A versus India A game. Naman Ohja made 219* and then Mitchell Marsh made 211.

The Marsh name always catches my attention. It is almost embarrassing to admit it, and it says a lot more about me than him, but when I was a kid my great hero was Geoff Marsh.

At the time I was a reluctant opening bowler but they also sent me out to open the batting. This was not because I had any talent as a batsman, but because I scored very, very, veeery slowly and these were the days when people thought at least one of your openers ought to be a stonewaller. Actually England still seem to think this.

Geoff Marsh essentially didn't have the talent for Test cricket and therefore he pottered around, made runs out of pushing and running, and generally looked a bit of a plodder. I admired this.

I think my admiration for Geoff Marsh did my game long-term damage, not because I tried to bat like him, but because this was also the time in my life when I purchased a cricket bat, a bat I used for the rest of my career.

Geoff Marsh and David Boon used huge cricket bats, Boon especially, his bat was like a railway sleeper with Gray-Nicolls stickers on it. So I got a bat that was way too heavy for me and remained a plunker and a plodder. I may well have been anyway but I would nevertheless advise kids to get a bat that is as light as they think they will still get value from. This is Dean Jones' advice, not mine.

Obviously I thought Geoff Marsh was living a fantasy, an everyman who had stumbled into Test cricket. Several years ago the mighty Jarrod Kimber on the awesome Cricket With Balls wrote a post along these lines about Bryce McGain, that watching him was like watching one of us going out there to have a go.

Absolute nonsense of course, McGain may have been a nuffy at Test level but if he played at my lower grade country cricket level, he would be smashing me out of the park every time I bowled, and I doubt I would even get a bat on the ball when he bowled.

There is noone anywhere near Test level, First Class level, hell metropolitan first grade level, that isn't grossly more talented than any of the fools I played cricket with. I never saw McGain as something like me, I saw him as a bloke with a lot of talent, just not enough to make it in the big time.

In December 1989 Geoff Marsh made 355* for Western Australia in Shield cricket.

When I realised that Geoff Marsh had two kids who looked like being superstars I became very excited. The part of the Geoff Marsh legend that I liked best is where he had a net and a bowling machine on his farm and his wife used to stand for hours feeding balls in for Geoff to practise. I thought, now that's the way to raise a boy. Clearly someone stood and let Shaun and Mitchell play the machine as they grew up.

My oldest child was born two weeks into the first season of the IPL, and it was on free telly in the middle of the night. I was up often enough to soothe the baby or stoke the fire and it was my biggest thrill to watch Shaun Marsh bat. It excited me that here was a kid who literally grew up in the Australian dressing room, having Test cricketers give him throw-downs when he was not more than a toddler. In the IPL he looked a genius. He still looks a genius.

He made a hunded on his Test debut in Sri Lanka, and then failed miserably until he was dropped. He made a hundred in South Africa this year, and then resumed normal service with a pair and he got dropped. He is not a lad to set your heart on.

What I like best about Mitchell Marsh is that he could have been a footballer and he picked cricket instead. That is rare. Most of them go the other way. Cricket loses a handful of truly talented players to Australian Rules every year. Even some of them we kept, like James Brayshaw and Shane Warne, I suspect would have stuck with the footy if only their talent lay more in that direction. David Boon admitted as much himself. I heard him say at a sportsman's night a few years ago that he still misses the smell of the liniment.

Mitchell March coming good with a big double is great news for Australian cricket. Finally someone to replace Shane Watson (indeed someone who may at last be the Watson that Watson never was).

But I personally have history with the Marsh clan, and I'm not holding my breath. With Mitchell I'll just wait and see.

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