Marsh delivers signature moment

Sporting careers, however long or decorated, are so often crystallised in collective memory through moments that last a few seconds. These are freeze frames that brook no argument, summing up an athlete's place in the history of their sport and their nation. For Australia, it's Cathy Freeman crossing the finishing line at Sydney 2000, Greg Norman falling to the ground on the 15th hole amid his final-day collapse at Augusta in 1996, or Tim Cahill volleying home that screamer against the Netherlands at Brazil 2014.

In Australian cricket, Shane Warne is forever bowling Mike Gatting, Steve Waugh always saluting a Sabina Park double century then wiping his brow with the lucky red rag, and Adam Gilchrist whacking the winning runs at the end of the Hobart miracle chase. All these figures had plenty more of their careers to run afterwards, but it was at such junctures that they ensured a place in history to surpass all other moments or arguments.

Up until this evening, Shaun Marsh did not possess such a moment or anything like it. He had made four Test hundreds, one of them in Australia, including a century on debut in Sri Lanka in 2011. But for the most part he has been less commonly associated with brief, transcendent moments than long, laborious pub arguments about his place in the Australian team. Always considered one of the nation's most prodigious talents, ever since making a century as a teenager for Western Australia and earning Waugh's approval, his on again/off again international career has lacked a unifying moment to end all such debate.

Never were the arguments more vociferous than in the hours and days after the selectors named their squad for the Gabba, including Marsh for the eighth time despite dropping him earlier this year in favour of younger players, and ignoring the claims of others who had performed better than him in the opening rounds of the Sheffield Shield. Even when Marsh contributed a serviceable half-century in Brisbane there remained some murmurings about how he had failed to go on from the platform, allowing himself to be fooled by Stuart Broad and leaving the captain Steven Smith to rely on the lower order.

That all stopped on day two in Adelaide. A spinal century in Australia's first innings after being sent in by Joe Root was pivotal enough, but the Marsh moment arrived after he had passed three figures and shaped up again to Broad. Not content with a pair of boundaries, he launched into a length delivery from Broad with all the power, poise and timing of the very best batsmen, launching the sort of straight six that used to have Richie Benaud exclaiming "I'll get it" in the commentary box. In a trice, Australia's Villain of Nottingham in 2013 (with the bat) and 2015 (with the ball) was made to turn on his heels, humbled by a helluva shot.

The unbridled delight of this sight, for the vast majority of 52,201 spectators at the ground and countless more on television, was so unrestrained as to finally lift Marsh out of the ranks of the debatable and into far more agreeable territory. His innings and its most raucous moment were received in an unconditionally warm way, as a softly-spoken and amiable man provided the sort of memory that many will be able to carry with them for years to come.

"We got a message just before tea that Smithy wanted to up the ante a little bit so they gave us free range for about four or five overs after tea. So yes, it was nice, and nice to get a few out of the middle too," Marsh said, with typical modesty. "There were a few emotions there. Probably when I got to about 90 I started to get a little bit nervous, but I'm extremely happy to get a hundred for my country and to get a hundred in an Ashes is pretty special.

"I haven't really thought about all the external noise with my selection in the team and I've just tried to come in and be nice and relaxed. I've felt really good within my game over the last three or four months. I was disappointed with my shot in Brisbane but I felt nice and comfortable up there and nice and relaxed out there in the middle. It was just nice to continue on with a start in this game and get a hundred."

Unaffected as Marsh said he had been by the "external noise", he was nonetheless conscious of the fact that this was a final chance put his stamp on Tests - at 34, he has somehow evaded the ageist handicap that seems to have called time on the international days of others like George Bailey, Ed Cowan and Cameron White. His good fortune in this was mirrored in escaping, by a few centimetres, the lbw verdict of Chris Gaffaney. Marsh said he had reviewed the decision less for height than line, creating plenty of relief when a reprieve was delivered via Adelaide Oval's big screen.

"I thought it was outside leg more than going over," he said. "So when I saw the ball had pitched in line I thought I might've been in a bit of trouble, so to see it go over the top was good and luck was on my side.

"There has always been plenty of goodwill for Marsh in the Australian cricket establishment"

"Six months ago I wasn't sure whether I'd be back here. I always dreamt of getting back in. I went away to England, had some really good fun playing there [for Yorkshire] and tried not to think about it too much coming back to our summer, and just tried to play cricket and score as many runs as I could for WA. Just really happy I've got this last chance and happy with the way it's going."

There has always been plenty of goodwill for Marsh in the Australian cricket establishment, whether it is to do with his parentage - father Geoff, a long-time lieutenant of Allan Border and dependable opening batsman for state and country - or the easy power and timing so evident when he bats at his best. What has also helped is the conviction of the selectors that Marsh's best is good enough to dominate at international level. Save for a stroll to 182 against the West Indies in Hobart two years ago, Marsh's other Test hundreds had all been made in circumstances of some difficulty, none more so than that made alongside Smith against South Africa at Centurion in 2014 when he was recalled following that summer's Ashes sweep.

As the coach Darren Lehmann had put it after the Gabba Test: "He's one of the class players. His record in the county season was excellent, his JLT Cup form was unbelievable and he's got 50 or 60 and he got 90 against Hazlewood, Starc and Cummins on a wicket at Hurstville. He's in good form and we'd like a little bit of experience there. We think he can do that, he's played vital knocks for us at various stages throughout his career, we hope we've got him at the right time and he can do it again."

Such hope was mirrored in another mature-age selection, that of the 32-year-old Tim Paine as wicketkeeper and No. 7 batsman. Paine's role on day two should not be underestimated, as he showed the expansiveness he has added to his batting via Twenty20 experience in an innings that helped wrest the initiative from England after Pete Handscomb's more halting contribution. Marsh was thus left to play in his unhurried manner, for the kind of productive seventh wicket stand seldom seen for Australia since the exit of Brad Haddin, now the team's fielding coach.

This was always going to be a critical area for the Australians, given how much Haddin influenced the 2013-14 series with the bat and how badly the middle and lower orders had let the team down in recent times. Marsh's calmness and Paine's verve were an excellent combination, before Pat Cummins added to his already considerable stature with another considered contribution from No. 9.

Together they allowed Marsh to go to his hundred with a pull shot that could only have been honed on the bouncy WACA Ground, before enrapturing Adelaide by depositing Broad over his head. In assessing how Marsh had changed the dynamic for Australia's middle order, England's coach Trevor Bayliss offered a summary that not even the left-hander's most strident critics could argue with. "Shaun's been a quality player for a lot of years and he's shown that today. He's certainly added something to their team."

Whether or not he becomes a figure to rank with those mentioned above is still open to question. But for now, the cricket public can actually sit back and simply do what many have always wanted to: enjoy the man bat.