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T20 World Cup 2024: Mitch Marsh goes from larrikin to leader as Australia captain | Angus Fontaine
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T20 World Cup 2024: Mitch Marsh goes from larrikin to leader as Australia captain | Angus Fontaine

When Mitchell Marsh leads his men out as Australian captain for the 2024 T20 World Cup this month, there will be a twinkle in his eye.

At 32, the big all-rounder appears to be entering his prime at last, having blazed a famous century at Headingley in the 2023 Ashes and won the Allan Border medal as 2024 men’s player of the year. It’s the twinkle of a man who walked a low road to a higher place.

The West Australian says it’s his life journey not his cricket career that will form the compass for his leadership of a 15-man unit blending old warhorses and raw powerhitters. “Captaincy is about connection,” Marsh says. “That isn’t going to the pub for beers – not everyone enjoys that as much as me – it’s about being relatable and understanding who these guys are as people to build relationships and trust.”

Marsh himself has finally won the trust of Australia’s cricket public after a torrid decade in which his prodigious talent was largely left unfulfilled. “My first 10 years, I was given a lot of opportunities and I failed a lot,” he says. “I had to learn to deal with that failure, and it held me back. Every time I failed, it got me down, and when you want to succeed and you keep failing, life gets really hard.”

But Marsh’s broad shoulders were destined to bear great expectations.

He hails from a proud cricketing bloodline (father Geoff and older brother Shaun were both Test batters) and announced himself to the world as a tearaway teenager, cracking the West Australian side at 17 and captaining Australia’s U19 side to the 2010 Cricket World Cup.

With his belligerent hitting and canny swing bowling, Marsh was made for T20s. But despite a debut for Australia in 2011, he has played only 53 internationals in the format. This same erratic pattern has played out in a rollercoaster 42-Test career. “I’ve done a lot of work on finding perspective and detaching myself from outcomes,” Marsh grimaces of those “years when I was shit”.

The low ebbs – pilloried in the media, booed by home crowds at the 2018 Boxing Day Test (“toughest day of my career”), breaking his hand punching a wall after another cheap score in 2019 – almost saw Marsh retire. “There were definitely times when I thought, ‘Do I want to play cricket? I’d ring Shaun and say, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’ He’d be: ‘Shut up mate, you’re not done.’”

The Marsh brothers Shaun and Mitch celebrate winning the Ashes in the changreoomsView image in fullscreen

Lost in the dark, Marsh lost sight of his brightest moments: the big maiden Test century at the WACA in the 2017-18 Ashes, another soon after in Sydney with Shaun at the other end, his stunning 77 off 50 balls that won the 2021 T20 World Cup final, or the 96 that clinched the Durban Test of the “sandpaper” series and saw him (briefly) named Test vice-captain in the rebuild era that followed.

“It’s taken me a long time to not let the game dictate who I am as a person,” he says. “These days I know I don’t have to be the best cricketer in the world so long as I contribute to my team winning games. I can still be a good person, a good husband, a good family man. They’re the things that are really important.”

Marsh is proud he “kept trying, kept coming back.” Even in exile, he chased the dream, toiling with coach Scott Meuleman on his pre-ball routine and psychologist Matt Burgin on his breathing. Getting married to Greta Mack in 2023 helped too. Most endearingly, Marsh made himself the ultimate team man, buyer of beers, counsellor and comic relief to his teammates.

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“In a travelling squad you’ve got to look after each other,” Marsh believes. “Those 14-15 guys in the squad, as well as the staff, they’re my family in the 10 months of the year we spend travelling away from home. So I do everything I can to be a good team man, look after my mates, reminding them that we’re there to play cricket but also on this earth to have fun and enjoy life outside the game.”

It’s why Test skipper Pat Cummins will be proud to serve under Marsh at the T20 jamboree. “Mitchy is a legend,” Cummins says. “As a cricketer he’s dealt with so many setbacks, be it selection or injuries. But he’s the first guy you want in your team – great fun, great energy. He brings us together, cares for everyone. He makes us all walk a bit taller.”

Never more than at Headingley last year when Marsh was a shock call-up for his first Test in four years. Walking out at a crisis 85-4, he hammered a brutal, beautiful 102-ball century, the fastest by an Australian in England since Victor Trumper’s 95-ball ton in 1902.

“After that they finally stopped calling me Shaun,” Marsh says with a laugh. “It was such a special moment and I’ve felt love and support from all over the world ever since. As an Australian cricketer, that’s what it’s about for me: inspiring kids to play and love the game. It’s been an incredible couple of years … hopefully it’s a good month to come.”

Source: theguardian.com