Shaun Marsh's dizzying rollercoaster
Only three Australian tourists currently in India have scored Test centuries on the subcontinent. Australian fans will be a wishing there was a fourth. But as the disastrous tour unfolds, Shaun Marsh, with that debut Test century in Sri Lanka replaying in his mind, sits quietly in a Perth coffee shop. His right knee is still tattooed in black marker pen, pointing to the bandage protecting the sewn-up incision, from the procedure to fix his recently torn hamstring tendon.
"Obviously the boys have had a tough start but they're a good bunch of guys and good cricketers, so they'll bounce back," Marsh said. "When you do watch Test cricket you do want to be a part of it and you do want to get back there."
There are few rollercoasters in the world that could match the highs and lows of Marsh's last 18 months. In September 2011 he became the 19th Australian to score a Test century on debut, and the second only since Bill Ponsford to do it from No. 3. It was thought Ricky Ponting's replacement had been found. But a back injury flared and forced Marsh out for six weeks, making him miss three Tests in the process. One stunning Big Bash knock, in his only match during that time, was enough to see him return on Boxing Day for the first Test against India. But the high point of Michael Clarke's captaincy era corresponded with a low-point in Marsh's career. A 4-0 series whitewash for Australia matched the West Australian's batting average for the series. His stocks, which had soared so high in Sri Lanka, suddenly plummeted so low he was dropped from the national set-up.
"From the start I had against Sri Lanka to three months after that, with the series against India, it was one extreme to the other," Marsh said. "I certainly learnt a lot of things from that. You can't take things for granted. Especially at that level. It's a tough industry. I learnt the hard way."
But just as the rollercoaster seemed to level off, a sickening, sudden descent explored deeper depths. An off-field indiscretion at the Champions League in South Africa in October 2012 saw Marsh dropped from the Perth Scorchers, and subsequently the WA team.
The Lindisfarne Oval* in Hobart hosted a Futures League match in November which he was asked to start his redemption.
"It was a bit of a shock I guess. Obviously playing Test cricket only 11 months before that to finding out I wasn't playing for WA was a bit of a shock to me. I was struggling mentally at that time. I knew I had to just get away and score runs again."
A full and frank discussion with new WA coach Justin Langer helped facilitate the rollercoaster's upward curve.
"He laid down the laws for me. It was a good chat. I knew exactly where I stood with him, and I went away with a new belief, in terms of where I wanted to head. It gave me a lot of confidence to know that if I went back and scored runs in grade cricket and 2nd XI, I could get back into the team straight away."
Runs came, both in that game and with the immediate change of format. The start of the BBL was perfectly timed for Marsh, who has flourished in T20 cricket for both his home state and Kings XI Punjab in the IPL. It is a format that simplifies both his mind and his technique and allows his rare gifts to be showcased uninhibited.
"That's one of the good things about it and it's probably why I've had so much success with it. I just try to keep my game plan as simple as I can. I can just go out there and play with a bit of freedom from ball one. It's a format that I really enjoy.
"Obviously with all the things that happened in South Africa, I made a conscious effort that I wanted to play really well for the Scorchers in this year's Big Bash. I was really pleased with the way I went and the boys played really well and we've got to another Champions League. We've got some unfinished business there. I'm looking forward to that later on in the year."
Marsh was integral to the Scorchers reaching the BBL final. He finished the tournament as the leading run scorer, making five half-centuries in nine innings. It led to a recall to the Australian side for the T20s against Sri Lanka.
He then continued his form on his return to WA ranks. He bludgeoned an unbeaten 155 in a one-day game against Queensland, and backed that up with 84 in the second innings of a remarkable come-from-behind Sheffield Shield win at the Gabba.
"I tinkered with my technique a little bit with JL before the Big Bash and it seemed to work really well. Hopefully I just play with a little bit more freedom in the longer formats of the game now. It's one thing to try and take that Big Bash into one-day cricket and four-day cricket.
"In the second innings of the Shield game up in Brisbane, JL had a chat to me and said, 'Just go out and play with freedom as you've got nothing to lose'. I did that. I played my shots and it's certainly something I'm going to try and do lot of more of in the coming years." Marsh said.
The rollercoaster had almost climbed back to its highest peak again. Named by his peers as the Australian Cricketers' Association player of January, he was called up for ODI duty against West Indies. National selector John Inverarity indicated the importance of Marsh's resurgence.
"With Shaun we'll just take one step at a time," Inverarity said. "His form in the BBL has been absolutely compelling. He's batted brilliantly and we all know how well he can play when he's in a good space, and he seems to be in a very good space at the moment."
But just when Marsh thought the ride was over, that rollercoaster dipped again. At Bellerive of all venues, seeking his 100th run of all things, against the England Lions of all teams, his hamstring tendon gave way. Given the ills of the Australian Test team right now, the surgery and two-month recovery could not have come at a worse time.
"Yeah it's obviously been really hard over the last couple of weeks. Especially given that I've got myself back into the WA team now and playing well," Marsh said. "It was one of the toughest periods of my life. It certainly only makes you stronger and it only drives you to be a better player.
"I probably read too much stuff and looking back on it now, if I had my time again I probably wouldn't read anything at all. It only puts doubts in your mind. If I get another opportunity I'll definitely learn from the mistakes I made."
Marsh is hoping to be fit for the IPL. Given his return in the Big Bash, Kings XI Punjab would be keen to have him at full fitness.
"I love playing the IPL. I've been very fortunate that I've been a part of that now for all six years. It's a great place to play cricket. It's a great place to travel. Hopefully I can get the injury right before season starts and hopefully I can help the Kings XI boys play finals this year."
Marsh has no intention of playing county cricket in a bid to be in England for the Ashes mid-year. He will instead target the Caribbean Premier League as a springboard for the Champions League, as a trophy with either Scorchers or WA is becoming a major priority for him.
"It's really good down there at the moment. It's a great feel, the team spirit is definitely there, trying to build that culture of winning success. Justin has certainly been at the forefront of that and the boys have taken on everything he's said. It's exciting times I think."
As far as Marsh's personal ambitions go, he is keeping it simple.
"I think the key thing for me is working hard, putting in the extra sessions outside of the cricket team. Having the extra hits, which is something I probably wasn't doing at the start of the year. When I went away and did all that stuff, things started to turn around for me. I think also just having that belief, to know I'm good enough to play at state level and at national level. I've performed there before. I just need to keep that belief that I can do it again. There is a lot of cricket coming up in the next 12 months and I just want to be a part of it."
No doubt he will be hoping that rollercoaster stops so he can play a major part again.
* March 10 1.45pm GMT The venue of the Futures League match has been corrected
Alex Malcolm is a freelance writer based in Perth