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Shaun Marsh's maiden first-class ton came in the company of Michael Hussey eight years ago in Newcastle, and, so far, he's looked good to repeat the feat in Test cricket in Pallekele
September 9, 2011
Shaun Marsh first emerged as a batsman of interest when he stroked a century for Western Australia against New South Wales in 2003, an innings that moved Steve Waugh to declare the teenaged Marsh would play Test cricket. His partner at the crease that day? Michael Hussey.
Eight years later and half a world away in Pallekele, Marsh and Hussey found themselves together again. The younger man had already battled for more than an hour when Hussey joined him, at the fall of captain Michael Clarke's wicket. In doing so, Marsh had shown patience and fortitude not always evident over his journey from that January afternoon in Newcastle when Waugh had been so impressed. He started his innings a little earlier than expected, after Shane Watson kindly allowed Suranga Lakmal to pluck his off stump without offering a shot. There was some early movement in the air and, at the other end, Suraj Randiv delivered perhaps his best sustained burst of bowling in Test cricket.
Marsh stood up to all this in a manner that supported the views of his backers - including his former and current state coaches, Tom Moody and Mickey Arthur - that he was entirely ready for the rigours of Test cricket. Marsh has a pristine technique, straight in defence and limber in attack. He left the ball decisively, essayed not a single aggressive shot outside off stump until well set, and played crisply in the 'V' between mid-on and mid-off. He played, in fact, in the determined manner of his father Geoff, who had less of Shaun's obvious talent but stuck to the crease like a limpet in an era when top-order batting was far more hazardous to one's health than it can ever be in 2011.
Clarke's loss to an inattentive drive outside off stump served as confirmation that Marsh's more circumspect manner was the correct way to bat as Australia sought to push Sri Lanka out of the game. The arrival of Hussey at the crease would have strengthened that notion further. No one in this Australia team modulates his batting more effectively than Hussey at his best, as exemplified by 95 on the first day of the Galle Test when the pitch was at its least understood and arguably its most spiteful. He made a measured start, pushing for runs here and there with the occasional boundary, and exuded the sort of calm that Marsh had also demonstrated.
Hussey had to notch up many more runs and centuries before he was granted the baggy green that Marsh has been given in Sri Lanka, and in his methodical and intense approach there have been plenty of lessons for any young batsman. Marsh spent many of his years since that first century for WA in a lazy fog with a place in the state squad. He spent too much time out on the town with another left-hander, Luke Pomersbach, and both were suspended from state duty in 2007. Moody's call as coach to pull up the talented duo did more for Marsh than it did for Pomersbach, who has been unable to get back to the place of promise he first occupied.
One advantage Marsh had over Pomersbach was the example of a Test batsman for a father, and the sense of responsibility was tangible when Marsh senior handed a first Test cap to Marsh junior. The words Geoff spoke in an emotional team huddle were to the effect of "you know what this cap means", and, on the second day in Pallekele, Marsh batted with the gravity of a cricketer who knows his father is watching him. Cricket teams are known for their superstitions, one of them being that the team does not change its position in the viewing area once a sizeable innings or partnership is established. Geoff Marsh seemed to be following this dictum throughout the second day, sitting still in the same seat throughout play, willing his son towards what would be only his seventh first-class century.
When Marsh passed 50 with a trio of boundaries in the one over from Seekkuge Prasanna's leg breaks, he met the milestone with pride but also, seemingly, the feeling that the job was only half done. Up in the stands his father applauded and had a smile on his face, but remained seated - the standing ovation could wait another 50 runs.
At the other end Hussey kept talking, motioning and batting, lifting his rate and building the partnership as Sri Lanka wilted, resorting to the bizarre choice of Kumar Sangakkara with the new ball. Based on what they had seen in the Twenty20s and the ODI series, the hosts could have taken the brightest view of Marsh, since he had struggled against the spinning ball and played with chanciness even in his one substantial innings, 70 in the fourth limited-overs match. But they had to respect the way Marsh fought, staying composed and forcing the bowlers to go after him, for he refused to chase anything too wide.
Marsh went to tea on 83, and added only another four runs after the interval when the light faded enough for the umpires to take the players off. A sleepless night on 87 is not the most palatable of thoughts for an Australia batsman, even if it means a very successful Test debut has been made. In the myriad of thoughts that flash through his head overnight, Marsh might even remember that in addition to batting with Hussey, the manner in which he reached his maiden first-class century in Newcastle was pretty striking. He pinged a pair of sixes off the bowling of Mark Waugh and said later "the quicker the better, get my nerves out the way". Dad might not approve.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Daniel Brettig
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