The other son of Swampy
When Mickey Arthur last month likened Mitchell Marsh to Jacques Kallis, it was worth taking notice. Having coached Kallis for the past five years, Arthur knows the allrounder's game intimately, and as the new mentor at Western Australia he now has Marsh among his charges.
"I don't want to get ahead of myself when I say it but I can only think of Jacques Kallis," Arthur said after watching Marsh in the IPL. "I often sat there and thought about Jacques Kallis and who in the world could ever replace him and there's nobody. There's nobody who can bat in your top five and be your fourth seamer in world cricket and only Mitchell Marsh has that ability and potential."
Potential does not equal success, although Australia's selectors are very excited about Marsh. They love allrounders - Shane Watson and Steven Smith have been projects in recent years - and named Marsh in the Australia A side for this month's series against Sri Lanka A. An ankle injury will keep him from playing in those games, but at 18, Marsh has already achieved more than some cricketers manage in a lifetime.
Last year he became the youngest man ever to play domestic one-day cricket in Australia, when he debuted at 17. This January he captained Australia's triumphant Under-19 World Cup team, before winning an IPL contract with the Deccan Chargers, and in the process managed to dismiss his childhood hero, Kallis, in one game.
Not that mingling with the big names is anything new to Marsh. As the son of the former Australia opener Geoff, he spent countless hours in the team atmosphere when his father was the national coach in the late 1990s. His older brother Shaun remembers Geoff's playing days, but Mitchell's recollections are more modern.
"When Dad was coaching Australia, I was in the change-rooms all the time whenever I could be," Marsh said. "People used to tell me that I'd ask every bloke to throw me balls, to bowl to me, and that kind of stuff. I think I was pretty cheeky.
"I always loved Steve Waugh because of the way he played and the way he captained Australia."
It's no wonder that with Waugh and Kallis as his two idols, Marsh has developed into a strong middle-order batsman and fast-medium bowler. Like Shaun, Mitchell would head outside every day to the net Geoff had built in their Perth backyard and hit balls or roll his arm over.
"I've basically lived and breathed cricket all my life," Mitchell said. "Dad has obviously been a massive part of that with what he's done with his career, and I'm very grateful. We were pretty lucky to have a net in our backyard. We'd use it every day, sometimes for half an hour, sometimes for two hours. Whenever I had friends over, that's what we did."
Somehow, he found time to become a handy Australian rules footballer as well. So good, in fact, that he would have been nominated for the AFL draft had he kept playing. At 194 centimetres, he was a strong key position player, but a spot at the Centre of Excellence made it an easy decision to concentrate on cricket.
He demonstrated his power in his fourth one-day game for the Warriors, when he blasted 60 off 29 balls at the WACA, in a game in which Shaun made a century. On that day, Mitchell came in after 40 overs, when things were going well. But he also has the ability to rise in tough situations. As Australia's captain at the Under-19 World Cup, he impressed the team's coach, Brian McFadyen, with his leadership and calmness.
"His form wasn't fantastic," McFadyen said. "But in the quarter-finals he got a 50-odd and then a 90-odd in the semi-final. So when it really counted, he stood up. A few boys grew because of how he stood up. He is the sort of guy who does exude confidence, and he certainly doesn't get over-anxious. It's a very obvious belief in the way he goes about his own cricket."
McFadyen, a coach at the Centre of Excellence, is keeping an eye on Marsh during his stay there this winter, and he hopes the expectations on Marsh aren't too great just yet. He has not established himself as a full-time member of Western Australia's first-class team, but before his ankle problem ruled him out he was picked in the four-day and one-day Australia A groups.
For now, Marsh is a batsman who can bowl some useful overs, although he wants to develop into a first-change seamer. It's a goal that will have Australia's selectors salivating, but McFadyen is adamant that Marsh is "miles away" from having the physical base to handle such a workload.
"He's got the ability to bowl 135kph plus, and from 6'5", he's got natural skills where he can bowl seam-up," McFadyen said. "He can swing it away a little bit, he can bowl a bouncer and a slower ball. There's no doubting his talent.
"He really is a genuinely nice guy with a level head. We're pretty confident that Mitch will continue to cope well with all these opportunities. Emotionally, we are confident he's got a good make-up for it but we've got to focus on the physical side."
Marsh has proven his body can handle batting for a long period, having made a club-record 208 for Fremantle when he was 17. Geoff Marsh is the club coach at Fremantle, and he prefers to let his son's performances do the talking. But Marsh senior is pleased that both his boys have the chance to make a good living from cricket, with IPL deals and state or national contracts.
"I think it's fantastic now that the opportunities are there, and if they work hard the rewards are very good," Geoff said. "I'm like every parent who watches their kids play sport. You sit there and hope for the best and sometimes you like to shut your eyes and wake up when it's all over, but we always watch."
He could be watching for many years to come, if Mitchell proves Arthur correct. The Australia A goal is out of the equation for now, but rest assured that won't be the last we hear of Mitchell Marsh.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo