Illustration- Vasim Maner
Illustration- Vasim Maner

It is rare that three members from the same family represent the national team in any sport – leave alone cricket. Rarer, still, to have all of them enjoy a successful run at one point or the other. Comparisons, then, become inevitable and the younger ones often fall prey – history is a good indicator of that!

For Mitchell Marsh, his father Geoff was not only a bona fide player for Australia – the seventh-highest impact Australian ODI batsman ever – but was also head coach of the Australian national team for nearly four years (which included a World Cup triumph). His brother, Shaun, blitzed his way into world cricket by finishing as the top run-getter in the IPL’s inaugural season, almost three years before Mitchell’s international debut. Shaun even went on to score a century on Test debut in Sri Lanka.

The approaching scenario could have played out in two ways – Mitchell could have either buckled under the pressure of expectation, given the successes of his father and brother, or could have had newfound belief in his evidently superior genes.

Mitchell clearly wasn’t afraid. Rather, his upbringing and thought process to stay focused would manifest into a highly unique ability in his career – his skill of producing the goods in crucial matches despite a plethora of talent and big-match players around him.

In his burgeoning, 44-match ODI career, Mitchell is already a higher impact player than father Geoff and brother Shaun. To make it even more scandalous, he has been a higher impact ODI player than the likes of Shane Watson, Kapil Dev, Jacques Kallis, Shaun Pollock and Ian Botham. In other words – the short career notwithstanding – the start he has had is almost unparalleled in ODI history.

Vs England, Final, Carlton Mid One-Day International Tri-Series, Perth, 2015:  Playing in only his second ODI of the tri-series, Mitchell Marsh walked out to bat with Australia under trouble at 60 for 4 in 17.4 overs. With Maxwell as company, Marsh stitched a partnership of 141 runs off just 140 balls for the fifth wicket. Marsh managed 60 runs off 68 balls as Maxwell finished with 95 off 98. Australia posted a total of 278— a far cry from what seemed possible after their top-order collapse. That batting wasn’t easy could be judged from England’s final score as well, 166 runs off 39.1 overs. Marsh didn’t pick up any wicket but was highly economical in his display of 0-18 off 7 overs. This was Marsh’s first series-defining performance of his career.

A SERIAL SERIES-WINNER

Mitchell Marsh has played only 44 ODIs and averages 36 with the bat, and 35 with the ball. While it shows potential, it doesn’t – in any way – show the bearings of a champion. But when we look at the timing of his performances, the truth unravels.

Mitchell has already produced three series-defining performances (SDs) for the Australian national team. For perspective, that’s the number of series defining performances produced by Matthew Hayden, Kevin Pietersen, Zaheer Khan, Allan Donald and Javed Miandad in their respective ODI careers. Incidentally, Geoff Marsh also produced three SDs, but in 117 ODIs.

Mitchell Marsh’s frequency of producing an SD (once every 15 ODIs), therefore, turns out to be the best in ODI history (min: 40 ODIs). Two of Mitchell’s three SDs have come in the finals of tri-nation series (one in West Indies and the other in Australia). The third – his only SD in a bilateral series – came in the deciding ODI against England in 2015 (away from home) with the series level at 2-2. Clearly, there is more than an element of luck to the timing of Mitchell’s ODI performances.

Vs England, 5th ODI, Manchester, 2015: With the series level at 2-2 against a resurgent English side, John Hastings provided Australia the perfect start by reducing England to 22 for 3 at the end of the first six overs. But this was a different England ODI side to the previous ones, they knew how to make a comeback and were enjoying success under the new management. The match was not over till Mitchell Marsh made sure it was. He picked up the next four wickets to fall- Jonny Bairstow, Moeen Ali, David Willey and Ben Stokes to leave England helpless at 85 for 7. They eventually managed only 138 as Australia chased down the target with 8 wickets and 154 balls to spare. Marsh’s display of 4-27 off 6 overs made sure he emerged as the ‘Player of the Match’ and the ‘Player of the Series’.

DUAL ROLE AND THE ROAD AHEAD

In ODIs, Mitchell Marsh clearly plays the role of a genuine all-rounder. Although his conventional numbers suggest he is a batting all-rounder, his Impact numbers suggest that he is a far better big-match bowler – thereby making him a bowling all-rounder. His bowling has been responsible for two of his three SDs, while batting accounted for the third.

Incidentally, Mitchell’s Batting Impact in ODIs is identical to his brother Shaun’s. Loosely speaking, Mitchell’s Batting Impact in ODIs is the same as Suresh Raina’s, Younis Khan’s or Eoin Morgan’s whereas his Bowling Impact is the same as Aaqib Javed’s, Rangana Herath’s or Jason Gillespie’s. One can imagine the combined effect.

Vs West Indies, Final, West Indies Tri-Nation Series, Barbados, 2016: This was a tri-series featuring South Africa as the third team and many expected a South Africa-Australia final, but it was not to be. After Australia decided to bat first, they posted a total of 270 in their 50 overs with Mitchell Marsh contributing 32 runs off 45 balls. West Indies in their reply got off to a solid start and when Marsh came on to bowl, were 50 for 1 after 11 overs. Marsh though changed the game with his bowling again. He accounted for the next three wickets to fall- Darren Bravo, Marlon Samuels and Johnson Charles to leave West Indies struggling and gasping for a lifeline at 72 for 4. There was none. Marsh’s 3-32 off 10 overs made sure that West Indies fell short by 58 runs. Overall, a classic all-rounder’s performance.

As an all-rounder, Mitchell has produced 14 high impact performances in 44 ODIs. His ratio of producing such a performance is the fifth-best for any player in ODI history after Andrew Flintoff, Imran Khan, Vivian Richards and Ian Botham – all legends of the game. In fact, at the end of their respective 44th ODI, Mitchell’s impact has been 75% higher than Flintoff’s, 53% higher than Richard Hadlee’s, 26% higher than Botham’s and 21% higher than Imran’s. Amongst legendary all-rounders, only Kapil Dev and Vivian Richards had a higher impact than Mitchell at this stage of their respective careers.

All this makes Mitchell Marsh the ninth-highest impact ODI player of all time after Richards, Dennis Lillee, Adam Gilchrist, Flintoff, Andy Roberts, Imran, Mitchell Starc and James Faulkner (min: 40 ODIs). And the fifth-highest impact Australian player ever. To reiterate – there should be an asterisk against Mitchell’s name given the low number of ODIs he has played, but his start has been nothing less than stellar and it ought to be acknowledged.

Mitchell’s ODI career may have hit the right trajectory, but it hasn’t been so in Tests and T20s. His Test spot, especially, is in jeopardy. The only possible caveat in Mitchell’s ODI career is his consistency – often ‘boom or bust’ – and his failure rate with both bat and ball is very high (55%). This inconsistency gets exploited even more in the longest format.

Given his history with injuries, continuous exertions as a dual-skilled player in all three formats might prove risky in future. Although he is only 25, Mitchell might have to make way in Tests to have a longer – hopefully successful – run in the two shorter formats.

Stunningly, both James Faulkner and Glenn Maxwell’s impact in ODIs are not far off Mitchell’s. With such competition over the all-rounder’s spot in the national team, a bad series or another injury can lead to an extended break from the setup despite his exploits.

It seems almost unreal to think that a player of Mitchell Marsh’s caliber can be dropped – but that’s the sort of pressure which is heaped when one aspires to be part of a world champion team. For Mitchell, though, coping with such demands is almost second nature.

 

 

Soham Sarkhel