A candid Mitchell Marsh has revealed the extent of his spiral out of the Australian set-up last summer and also his path back to playing the fifth and final Ashes Test, despite what he readily acknowledges is a fractious relationship with many of those who follow the game Down Under.
“Yeah, most of Australia hate me,” he said with amusing resignation. “Australians are very passionate, they love their cricket, they want people to do well. There’s no doubt 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 and I love playing for Australia, I love the baggy green cap and I’ll keep trying and hopefully I’ll win them over one day.”
Named one of two Test team vice-captains ahead of the 2018-19 season, Marsh was initially a central part of plans being drawn up by the Australian coach Justin Langer, but a poor tour of the UAE against Pakistan and then a brief and unproductive stint at home against India left him not only out of the Test side but removed from World Cup calculations and also losing his Cricket Australia contract.
Marsh said that personal issues, including the suicide of a close friend late last year, combined with underperformance and fitness issues to leave him a long way from enjoying the game. It took extensive work on his fitness, technical elements of his game and also his mentality with the Western Australia sports psychologist Matt Burgin to put him into the place where he was able to squeeze onto the Ashes tour. At The Oval he was given permission by Langer to attack with the ball, resulting in arguably his finest Test bowling display so far.
“I wasn’t making runs – if you bat No. 4 for Australia you need to make runs,” Marsh said. “Last year was a range of stuff, a few things in my personal life. I lost a close friend to suicide at the start of the summer and when things like that happen, I didn’t handle it as well as I could have and that transitioned into my cricket at times as well. I understand everyone goes through tough periods in their life but I certainly didn’t handle it as best I could.
“But to have gone through that and got through the summer the way I did and finished with WA, I knew I still had love for the game. It was a tough summer last year. I tried to put it behind me as quickly as possible and here I am. It took me until probably March, the last three Shield games of the year for WA. When you play cricket or you do anything and you want to do well badly and it doesn’t work out, it’s very easy to get down on yourself.
“My body likes to put on weight easily and my mum loves to feed me, so I haven’t had as many roasts at home the last six months”
“I was certainly at that stage, so I did a lot of work with our sports psych Matt Burgin at WA just about detaching myself from the outcome, working as hard as I can, getting as fit as I can, preparing well and it sort of started from there. I’ve hardly played any cricket since then but that’s what I’ve been doing.”
At the same time, Marsh’s physical fitness had measured up poorly against the likes of Ben Stokes, forcing him to make numerous lifestyle and diet changes in order to do better. “As a professional athlete when you have setbacks you always think the worst, you think you might not play again after a summer I had last year,” he said. “There’s been no secret recipe, I’ve just worked my arse off for the last five months hoping to get another opportunity.
“I wanted to come here and have a positive influence on this group, i think I’ve done that running the drinks and I just waited for my opportunity. I don’t necessarily eat that bad, I’m just a big eater, so I probably cut down my portion sizes a fair bit. There’s no secret JL’s certainly challenged me from a fitness perspective, he wanted me to get fitter and stronger and over the last six months I’ve put everything I’ve had into it.
“I’ve certainly changed my lifestyle a little bit, I’m waking up every day trying to be the best cricketer I can be, and today was good reward for that but it’s one day of a Test match. It wasn’t terrible [but] my body likes to put on weight easily and my mum loves to feed me, so I haven’t had as many roasts at home the last six months, but it hasn’t been that hard. I love playing for Australia, I just love it, and I want to keep doing it, so I’ll keep working my arse off.”
Marsh’s contribution at The Oval was very welcome for the Test team at the end of a draining series, and he hoped it would be the start of a far more productive run in the team. “I think in the past my role as a bowler has been to hold an end,” he said. “JL came up to me before the start of play and at lunch time and he just said ‘go for it, attack, bowl the way you want to bowl’, and I was a little bit, not shocked, but it gave me the confidence to go out there and give it everything I had.
“Maybe a change of mentality allowed me to bowl a bit more attackingly as a player and it was fun. I want to be the best I can be at both batting and bowling, I don’t really want to pigeonhole one of them. No doubt as an allrounder at times you certainly hit them better than you’re bowling or vice versa but that’s just something that happens in cricket I guess as an allrounder. I want to be the best allrounder I can be in both facets of the game.”