The golden year of Mitchell Marsh
From a fringe Australia player to World Cup star and churning out BBL runs, he won't want 2021 to end
A rather innocuous unbeaten 42 against bottom-placed Melbourne Renegades doesn't exactly stand out amid Mitchell Marsh's purple patch but it might best encapsulate his remarkable transformation this year from an unfulfilled talent to arguably T20's most destructive batter.
In a see-saw of a Boxing Day clash, Zahir Khan, the in-form spinner in the BBL, had his tail up against a weary Perth Scorchers having dismissed Josh Inglis with a menacing wrong'un to spark the boisterous Renegades faithful craving an upset.
In a matter of minutes, however, Marsh again sapped the energy out of Marvel Stadium - after he smashed 86 against the same beleaguered opponent just four days earlier.
In the pivotal eighth over, with the game in the balance, an unwavering Marsh never let Zahir dictate and hammered the second ball of the over - a tossed up delivery in similar fashion to which deceived Inglis - through extra cover for a boundary.
Once upon a time Marsh might have unwisely tried to replicate the aggression but, instead, he caressed the next delivery around the corner for two runs then calmly took an easy single to completely change the momentum in three balls.
He had in the past been criticised for getting too bogged down against spin early in his innings, but this was clearly a confident batter toying with the best of them. An exasperated Zahir looked bereft of answers and the crowd had been muted like everyone there knew the game was basically over.
They were right. Inevitably, Marsh guided Scorchers to an easy chase and further cemented his newfound burgeoning status after a whirlwind few months highlighted by becoming a T20 World Cup hero for Australia. He's now in the rarefied field of being absolutely compulsive viewing, a genuine T20 drawcard who's capable of eviscerating the spirit of opponents and their fans - as the Renegades can well attest to.
No one, probably not even Marsh himself, could have predicted this exalted status 12 months ago when he returned back from his latest injury woe, a dodgy ankle at the time, which negated his bowling initially and made him relinquish Scorchers' captaincy.
His BBL season followed the usual frustrating template for Marsh - a handful of belligerent knocks dominating the backend of Scorchers' innings sprinkled around failures. Marsh still did enough, however, to be selected in Australia's T20 tour of New Zealand in February and March where he sparkled in the opener in Christchurch with 45 batting at No. 4.
But he then struggled for the rest of the five-match series mostly batting at No. 7, where he was unable to be the finisher Australia had envisioned. Once again it appeared Marsh would be back on the outer having never secured a permanent spot since his T20I debut a decade ago.
Just when it seemed his T20 World Cup prospects were in the doldrums, Marsh received a lifeline and was named in Australia's depleted squads to tour the Caribbean and Bangladesh. Having been shuffled around for Australia and mostly batted at No. 4 or 5 with Scorchers, Marsh was elevated to No. 3 in an inspired move that finally unlocked his great potential that had made him so maligned over the years.
"Coaching staff came up to me in the West Indies and said you'll bat three. I jumped at the opportunity," Marsh said during the West Indies tour. "I wanted to have a presence, be in the contest, go out there and play my game."
Australia coach Justin Langer recognised that Marsh's brute force could be effectively utilised in the powerplay and believed he had the maturity to handle the added responsibility. As his coach at Western Australia, Langer had been part of several important junctures in Marsh's career. After he took the reins in late 2012, Langer helped instill a greater work ethic into the youngster who had a reputation of not wanting it enough. Five years later, Langer backed the then 25-year-old as captain of Western Australia.
With his long-time mentor igniting a career revival, Marsh was in good spirits heading into the T20 World Cup magnified by time well spent at home where he got engaged to girlfriend Greta Mack.
"I know that when I've prepared really well I go out there full of confidence and that's certainly been the case for the last few months," Marsh said before the T20 World Cup.
Almost predictably, considering his rollercoaster of a career, Marsh's campaign didn't go seamlessly and he was even dropped for Australia's group game against England, which was their only loss of the tournament.
"I was pretty gutted when I got the news but four days later I was back in the team," Marsh later told SEN. "The rest is history."
The recalled Marsh went from strength to strength culminating in his breathtaking 77 not out from 50 balls against New Zealand to claim player-of-the final and end Australia's T20 World Cup jinx.
It was a satisfying performance after years of anguish for one of cricket's nice guys who had long been unfairly a punching bag. With mind and body in synergy, Marsh has not looked back and lit up the early stages of BBL11, where he almost routinely plundered a 60-ball century against Hobart Hurricanes in his season debut.
He now clearly has an aura about him and a fear factor where opponents hold their breath until he's dismissed. Earlier in the week, Sydney Thunder looked anxious even though they were defending 200 until Marsh holed out in a rare failure during this hot streak.
One almost needs to do a double take when he falls cheaply these days, which speaks to how much Marsh's standing has changed over the course of an unforgettable year he probably hopes will never end.
Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth