What a difference a few seasons makes… Mitch Marsh has gone from the most hated in cricket to universally adored
Despite falling agonising short of a maiden Boxing Day Test century against Pakistan at the MCG, Mitch Marsh waltzed into the press conference with all the charm and the deadpan wit of Jermaine from Flight of the Conchords.
The once whipping boy of Australian cricket who previously came across as tetchy and defensive, displayed an emotional honesty to the media, used to players churning out manufactured cheerfulness.
The all-rounder dispensed with the well-rehearsed platitudes and instead peeled off a series of self-deprecating barbs that had made Australia slowly fall in love with him.
What is more remarkable about Marsh’s 96 was that he came to the crease when Australia were floundering at 4/16. But no one seemed to panick.
It was oddly comforting knowing the Western Australian was out there. He had resolutely changed our minds because there was now an unwavering belief in his adventurous, ‘Happy Gilmore approach’ to the game.
However, not that long ago, if you typed Mitch Marsh’s name into social media, you would have been assaulted with a relentless barrage of ugly, unpleasant comments.
In some cases, I am talking about a delirious rage.
Cricket fans are unrelentingly brutal when a player flops after numerous chances. We tend to reserve a special kind of hatred for underperforming all-rounders. The hostility probably has its origins in the ongoing displeasure of waiting for another Keith Miller to emerge.
A batsman that could whip off a hundred before lunch on the first day, then destroy the top order with searing pace before a spot of tea with the Queen.
You can understand some of the angst towards Marsh, given at one stage he was the worst-ever performing number six in history to play the game after a minimum of 20 Tests.
The current T20 captain was allowed to fester in the Test side because of the selector’s unnatural obsession with picking an all-rounder.
He always looked agitated, tense and miserable. No matter the state of the game, it was always M Marsh’s fault.
Nevertheless, few players in world cricket over the past decade have endured such a sustained bombardment of abuse than Marsh.
Fans probably thought their attacks on him were nothing more than affectionate criticism, but at times, it was vicious, destructive, alarming and cruel.
Ever since he made his Test debut against Pakistan in 2014, there were exalted hopes he would be the match-winner Australian cricket craved.
After a stuttering start to his career, he was axed after the First Test against South Africa in 2016.
He got one of his many reprieves against England in the Third Test of the 2017-18 Ashes Series where he whacked a blistering 182 on a flat WACA pitch against an exhausted England bowling attack.
He proved it was not a fluke by hitting another ton in the following Test in Sydney.
Had Australia finally unearthed a batting all-rounder?
Marsh soon found himself the joint vice-captain in September 2018 so a longer stint in the Test team almost seemed assured.
A few months later, he was stunned to be left of the first Test against India. He was then dropped from all formats and lost his national contract due to a string of failures. The possibility of a Test return seemed remote.
But he got another recall in the final game of the 2019 Ashes Series where Marsh took his first five-wicket haul in Test cricket.
In a media conference after the game, he flipped the script by admitting most of Australia hated him. It was as if he knew that admitting his failures and faults through seething self-deprecating humour was the quickest path to get us to like him.
The self-deprecator’s status was elevated further because he delivered every sentence with a smile.
“Australians are very passionate, they love their cricket, and they want people to do well, Marsh said. “There’s no doubt I’ve had a lot of opportunity at Test level and I haven’t quite nailed it.”
So naturally, we started to think we were a little blinkered and hard-hearted towards Marsh.
The Bison brand was born. Just when we were starting to warm to this playful prankster, he busted his hand after punching a wall following his dismissal, in a Sheffield Shield match against Tasmania.
The injury saw him miss the start of the summer. The time the next Test series rolled around against India all the noise was about a prodigious, talent in the West called Cameron Green.
A genuine batsman who could bowl in the mid-140s. Once again, Marsh’s Test career seemed over. He was still tuning his game in the short format and his belligerent 77 in the 2021 T20 World Cup Final. We were all becoming a little more enamoured with him.
Even when Marsh got an unexpected call-up for the Third Test in the 2023 Ashes to replace an injured Green, we all knew it was temporary.
He came in with Australia at 4/85 and the trolls had already started to growl on social media. No one could predict what was about to unfold.
Marsh elegantly bludgeoned the English attack with a dazzling 118 off 118 balls. He garnished unbounded admiration from around the world.
He then turned his cavalier play into defiance during the second inning of the fourth Test making 31 over two and a half hours on the final day to save the game.
Despite his newfound success, there was still chatter about replacing him with Green for the home Tests against Pakistan.
The most maligned cricketer of our generation was universally adored.
The 32-year-old finished the recent Test series against Pakistan as the highest run scorer. He chimed in with some crucial wickets as well, including Pakistan’s star batsman Babar Azam.
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Marsh has gone from the most hated person in Australian cricket to almost the first one picked in all formats.
All the while playing with the energy, curiosity and joy of a player who appreciates the absurdity that cricket is just a game.