South Africa v Australia, 1st Test, Centurion, 1st day February 13, 2014

Marsh takes his last chance

It would be difficult to find two harder heads in cricket than those of Justin Langer and Simon Katich. Left-handed batting sons of the West, they have been instrumental in building the reserves of mental strength and concentration that allowed Shaun Marsh to compile a memorable Test century on day one of the series against South Africa, making light of the extraordinarily rushed circumstances of his recall, and the pressure of what amounted to his last chance at the top level.

Only five days ago, Marsh sat on his couch at home in Perth with any thoughts of adding to his eight Test matches a million miles from his mind. But a fluent innings in the Big Bash League final and a calf strain to Shane Watson had him flown over to the tour he had been initially selected for then cut from due to injury, and pitted against Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel at Centurion.

At one level, the rush was beneficial, not allowing Marsh time to think too much about the challenges of travel and the adjustments between formats. But on another it was testament to the work of Langer and Katich, who have taken it upon themselves to instil the kind of resilience and vitality writ large across the innings that has set such a fine platform for Australia.

"I've worked really hard with Justin Langer over the past 12 months," Marsh said of his state coach. "He's one of the most mentally tough players I've come across. Simon Katich has been really good too, from the Scorchers, for the past couple of years. He's been great to talk to as well.

"When you do get to this level you've got to be so mentally tough, and that's something I've had to work really hard on over the past couple of years. Just going out there and having a clear mind and enjoying it are the main two things I've really tried to do over the last six months, just to try and go and have fun and play each game as if it's my last.

"I have tried to prepare myself as best I could, I felt like I was hitting the ball as well as I could in the couple of days in the nets. I didn't have that much time to think, so when I got the tap on the shoulder the day before to say I was playing I was ready to go."

One of Katich's strongest views is that players must learn self-reliance, and it was evident at Centurion how well Marsh was able to cocoon himself from all that was going on around him and simply focus on the next ball. He left many of them well alone, straining the patience of the bowlers and waiting patiently for deliveries in his zones to hit. Twelve boundaries duly accrued.

Each one was music to the ears of the national selector John Inverarity, the coach Darren Lehmann, and others in the team like the vice-captain Brad Haddin, all figures who have kept faith in Marsh despite plenty of reasons to look elsewhere, namely a mediocre first-class record both overall and for this season. No longer a twentysomething, Marsh admitted this was likely to be his last chance.

"Definitely. You get to my age - I'm nearly 31 - and you've got to take your opportunities," Marsh said. "Like 'Hadds' said, once you get to 30 you don't get too many more than one chance. Hopefully I can continue on what I've done yesterday and just keep building.

"Obviously they've shown a huge amount of faith in me on the back of my Shield form. It was good for me to get some form yesterday, not only for me but the team as well and the guys who have shown a lot of faith in me. I don't really know [why I've been inconsistent]. I think not playing four or five games or so per year, probably doesn't help with my injuries, that doesn't put you on a path to consistency. But I don't know.

"Hopefully I can keep building now. I've still got a few years left in me, hopefully, and I can get a lot more consistency with it and finish off well."

In addition to helping Australia to a strong position, Marsh's performance shooed away unhappy memories of his horrific last Test series against India, and of Centurion itself. It was here in 2012 that he had been suspended, alongside his brother Mitchell, from the Perth Scorchers team for off-field misdeeds.

"It was this hotel as well [in Johannesburg] so it wasn't great," Marsh said. "It's nice to come back here and play well. I've now got some happier memories. It's been a pretty amazing two weeks for me and to get over here and get the opportunity to play in the first Test and get a century in the first innings has been great so far, hopefully I can continue on today.

"A Test hundred in South Africa against quality opposition rates really highly for me and I'm very happy to be out there playing for my country again."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Philip on February 14, 2014, 3:44 GMT

    I reckon clarity of thought can come easier when there is nothing much left to lose. I recall much the same clarity of thought on Marsh's debut. I didn't see all of this innings by a long way, but what I did see in a matter of a few minutes, if I recall correctly, as Marsh approached 150, was a ball pass the outside edge to the keeper, a squirt off the edge to leg and an attempted pull too close to the body a la Warner's dismissal. He'd made plenty by then of course, but consistency is the key. His father, Geoff, was one such example. As for cocooning yourself, there was one such incident when Marsh watched the ball head through gully unaware the non-striker was earnestly running towards him. The result could easily have been a run-out to his batting partner, Johnson. Cocooning oneself is a good strategy but it can have its downsides if over-done.

  • Mashuq on February 13, 2014, 18:55 GMT

    Well, I'm lost for words. Full credit to the NSP on picking him. Alfie you beaut! I couldn't believe the way Marsh left the ball and then cut off his stumps. Well the concentration was there in Sri Lanka but the quality of this attack and the conditions when he arrived (24/2) were as tough as they come. Keep it up!

  • Dummy4 on February 13, 2014, 15:22 GMT

    An entire order averaging 45-50 is unrealistic. Australian cricket would give near to anything to find a reincarnation of David Boon right now, and the Tasmanian Handlebar only averaged 43.

    What the side needs is what Marsh could be - someone who will fight for his wicket and make runs when the side desperately needs them. If he does that and averages 39, he will be absolutely worth his place in the team over the next 5 years.

  • Brenton on February 13, 2014, 11:38 GMT

    Don't get too carried away. 9 FC centuries in 13 seasons at an average of 35 is pretty poor. What are the chances of his test average ending up higher than his FC one? We need batsman averaging 45-50.

  • ESPN on February 13, 2014, 10:13 GMT

    he has always been amony top ausies left handers yet with some hard work he proved it

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