In the aftermath of two announcements about allrounders returning to the playing set-ups of Australia and England, it was difficult to conclude who had made the more unlikely return - Ben Stokes, or Mitchell Marsh.
While the former's absence has been more high-profile, Marsh's time away from the national team was a confluence of both physical infirmity and underperformance, such that other players, namely his Western Australian team-mate Marcus Stoinis, had seemingly slipped ahead of the Warriors captain in the selectors' order of preference. But a return to the bowling crease after a shoulder surgery, in addition to a healthy run of domestic scores, has flipped things once more.
In assessing options for what is likely to be a hot week in Perth on a baked dry WACA Ground pitch, Trevor Hohns' panel elected to go back to the same player who had been among the quintet culled at the end of a fifth consecutive Test match loss in Hobart a little more than a year ago. Marsh is now in line to replace the struggling Peter Handscomb and, if so, would slot into the same No. 6 position where he has so far averaged a measly 21.74 from 21 matches.
"I probably didn't think it was going to happen this soon, but in saying that I feel like I'm in really good form at the moment, and it's nice to be back playing as an allrounder," Marsh said in Melbourne. "I'm no guarantee to play in Perth, it'll depend on how the bowlers pull up; they've got eight days off now. Hopefully they pull up well but we'll have to wait and see."
It had been Marsh's bowling that kept him in the frame for Australia despite the aforementioned struggles as a batsman, related largely to confusion. Marsh was caught between a method based upon bludgeoning the ball with rare power, and a more considered approach that did not allow for the reality that his defensive technique could not effectively counter quality bowling for long periods. Questions remain about whether Marsh can do that job, particularly given how he was sorted out swiftly in two innings by Josh Hazlewood at Hurstville Oval earlier in the season, but he is certainly a more confident man now.
"That was a great learning experience for me, I certainly lost a bit of confidence," Marsh said of his difficulties in the Test side. "But that's all a part of playing cricket at the highest level, you go through troughs and right now I'm feeling really confident in my game and scoring runs for WA.
"From my experiences last year I wasn't performing at my best, and in the game of cricket you can get pretty down on yourself and I've just come to realise it's a game. I'm here to play, to do my best for the team and as long as I prepare well and do everything I can I know I'll be able to do a job for Australia.
"I've had eight or nine months to change a few things with my batting and I think that's working. Probably more [change] on the mental side, being able to deal with the pressures of batting for long periods of time is something I really wanted to work on and I feel like my game is in a really good place right now."
A good place, as well, to bat alongside his brother Shaun, who has provided a major contribution to Australia's Ashes cause so far with a useful innings in Brisbane than a pivotal one in Adelaide.
"It's always special playing for Australia with Shaun," Mitchell Marsh said. "Playing together in the last Ashes Test match at the WACA would be pretty special as well, and with the position we're in it's a great opportunity to hopefully come in to the side and perform for the team. One thing I learned from Shaun is he's solely focused on his own game now. When you play for Australia there are a lot of distractions outside the inner sanctum but he's just really concentrating hard now and it's great to see."
By his own admission, Marsh is not in a space where he can bowl vast numbers of overs, meaning he will be looking for a combination of economy and impact with the ball if selected. "As an allrounder in the Australian team, [and] with our bowling attack, I'm not going to be bowling 30-40 overs a game," he said. "But I've worked hard over the past eight months to get my body in good position, so I'm now playing again as an allrounder, so that's really exciting.
"[Ashes selection] wasn't in my thinking behind, it was more the game scenario against Queensland, but I've felt ready for a while. The shoulder took a lot longer than I thought it was going to take, as an athlete you always want to get back as soon as you can, it took a while, but now it's feeling great."
There was empathy too, for Handscomb, currently in the sort of trough Marsh experienced a little more than a year ago. "We've got a great relationship, Petey's a great bloke, still averaging 50 in Test match cricket, so in these situations you are always going to come under scrutiny if you don't get runs, but he's a very good player," Marsh said. "I'm sure if he gets another opportunity in the next Test match, he'll make runs.
"I certainly have been there. I think the biggest thing I've learned is the distractions outside, the media and the scrutiny, that's what happens when you play for Australia but it's all about making sure you focus on what you want and need to do to play well, and that's all that matters. There's always pressure for spots when you're playing for Australia, there' only 11 spots to fill. I'm feeling really confident in my game at the moment so it's a great feeling."