Marsh looks to build on 'special' knock
A lot has been said in local circles about the length of time between Australia's visits to Zimbabwe, with the last full side having toured just over a decade ago. Darren Lehmann was the grizzled, nuggety centre of Australia's middle order on their last trip here. Michael Clarke was young and nubile enough to justify the nickname 'Pup', and cracked his first international hundred in the third ODI of that series. Now they are coach and captain - but they are not the only Australians with significant experience of Zimbabwean conditions.
Geoff Marsh was Zimbabwe's coach back in 2004, and his son Mitchell spent a couple of his formative years in this country as a child. "Yeah, I've got a few good memories!" he said after Australia's 198-run win against Zimbabwe. "I've also been here the last couple of years with the Australia A team, so it's almost my second home now. I've almost played more cricket here than the WACA so it's great to be back here. It's a beautiful country and we've all said that if we can get a couple of days off and get out and see it, it would be great for the guys who haven't been here before."
Nostalgia aside, Marsh was even more ebullient over his experience of batting at No. 3 for Australia and racing to his first international fifty, particularly given the growing pains he has experienced as a cricketer and a young man over the last five years. At 17, Marsh was the youngest man ever to play in Australia's domestic one-day competition, and was Western Australia's youngest debutant for more than 70 years, having made a name for himself breaking batting records for Fremantle. But questions remained over his ability to make good on that potential, and a taste for the wild side of life - forgivable for most youngsters but seemingly not so for a professional sportsman - did not help.
"I don't think 'turned a corner' is the right way of putting it, but we all know that I've had a few ups and downs," he admitted. "My biggest focus over the last 12 months has been progressing both as a person and staying on the park. It's been a great few months.
"So it was special [bringing up my first international fifty]. I just had the role to get us as deep as I could, and obviously if we had wickets in hand at the end, with the batting we have we could apply some pressure to their bowlers. I thought Maxi [Glenn Maxwell] and all the other guys at the end batted really well to get us to a great total. It was certainly good fun to watch. I was very happy being at the other end. He's a special player and that was a great innings from him."
Marsh and Maxwell added 109 for the fourth wicket at more than 12-an-over, with Marsh also having contributed to partnerships of 47 and 33 with Aaron Finch and George Bailey, respectively. He departed to a mis-hit to long-on in sight of his hundred, for 89, but still had enough energy to bowl five nippy overs and pick up the wicket of Sean Williams. There was no hint that Marsh's batting effort sapped his will to bowl - that he'd 'lost a yard'.
"I don't really have too many yards to work with to be honest, but I don't see that. I've got my body at the stage now where it's hopefully going to be able to handle the rigours of international cricket and if I stay on the park hopefully I can continue progressing."
It remains to be seen whether Marsh's top-order promotion will continue in the long term and he can emulate his cricketing hero, Jacques Kallis. But his productive start in the position will not have hurt his efforts. "In the practice game in Brisbane when I batted at three, Pup sort of said 'you've got an opportunity there now', so fingers crossed I can stick around. They've certainly shown a lot of faith in me, and hopefully I can repay that. I certainly feel like I'm ready to take up that challenge."
His job will become rather more daunting when Australia take on South Africa on Wednesday, with Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel returning to the fray. "It'll be a tough contest," Marsh said. "I'm certainly not scared or anything, I'm looking forward to the opportunity to face those guys. Hopefully I can play a role for the team."
Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town