There is often a perception that Mitchell Marsh is forever fighting to keep his spot in any Australia side he plays for. In his fluctuating Test career that is perhaps fair, except for the fine run he enjoyed in 2017-18, and his T20I career has been stop-start. However, in ODI cricket he has shown much more consistency than he is often credited for.
Aaron Finch made specific mention of his numbers - which now stand at 35.82 with the bat and 36.02 with the ball - ahead of the series against England. For a direct comparison, albeit this allrounder is absent from the series, Ben Stokes' numbers are 40.63 and 41.71 and he is considered among the very best. With the bat, which can be viewed as the primary role for both in one-day cricket, Marsh does not lose much.
"This format has certainly been the one I've been most consistent in," he said. "I take great confidence in that. I don't look up my stats too much, but certainly love this format."
In many ways, it was a combination of strange and unfortunate events that led to Marsh not being at the 2019 World Cup. At the start of 2018 he was in possession of a middle-order slot and had a consistent series against England with two half-centuries. They would be his last ODIs for two years.
He missed the 2018 tour of England (shortly after sandpaper-gate) due to ankle surgery; he was left out of the South Africa series later that year to be "managed", in the words of national selector Trevor Hohns; he came down will illness one the eve of the one-day series against India in early 2019, which was followed by a nasty blow in the box that required surgery. Then he was left out of the tours to India and the UAE (to play Pakistan) that preceded and ultimately shaped the World Cup.
In the end he was called up as a standby when Marcus Stoinis suffered a side strain, but a few months later - after taking a five-wicket haul on his return to the Test side - had the bad idea of punching the dressing room wall early last summer, which disrupted the first half of his season until the Big Bash. He had to wait until February's tour of South Africa for his ODI comeback, and was then named Man of the Match against New Zealand at the SCG in March, days before the sporting world stopped due to Covid-19.
In the last few days he has not looked like a cricketer who hasn't played for six months. He was Man of the Match again on his T20I return and was central to Australia's victory in the first ODI at Old Trafford, along with Glenn Maxwell's lively 77 and a world-class spell by Josh Hazlewood. There seems little reason, given a fair wind and no more punching of walls, that Marsh will not be in the middle order for a long run now as Australia build towards 2023.
"I certainly know I'm being given this opportunity again, batting at No. 5 is a role I've done for most of my career in one-day cricket and I certainly feel really confident I can play my role for the team there," he said. "It's certainly great to have public confidence from Finchy. I've got a great relationship with him and someone I've played a lot of cricket with.
"It's not about me going out there and playing every game to try and cement my spot. It's about playing to the best of my ability to make sure I'm contributing to wins for Australia. If you do that, your position in the team takes care of itself."
Marsh came to the crease on Friday with Australia 80 for 3 in the 16th over, which would become 123 for 5 in the 24th with Adil Rashid threatening to cause havoc again. It was not a dissimilar position to the last time the teams played an ODI: in the World Cup semi-final at Edgbaston, Australia were 118 for 5 in the 28th. On that day it became 223 all out and game over, but this time a 126-run stand with Maxwell built a matchwinning total.
"Yesterday I tried to take the situation out of it, the fact we'd lost a couple of wickets, and just try to take it as deep as possible," he said. "Glenn's innings was amazing and really took the pressure off at times, allowed me to just keep batting. It would have been nice to capitalise at the end and get a few more but was rapt with the partnership I had with Maxi to get us into a really good position."
In the opening match he was only required to send down five overs of his brisk medium pace, but it was with the ball that he earned the match award against New Zealand in March. On his day Marsh could deliver a full quota of 10 overs and is probably a notch up from direct competitor Stoinis. It means Australia have depth to both their batting and bowling.
A lot can happen in three years, as Marsh knows only too well, but at 28 he should be coming into his peak to make him one of the key building blocks to Australia's one-day side.