Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
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Australia's World Cup campaign has resembled a balls-in-a-maze puzzle. From catches going down in the first two matches, to Steven Smith having to adjust to a new role, to his vertigo, to Glenn Maxwell's concussion on a golf course, Australia just haven't been able to get all the balls in the innermost circle.
One concern must have been how Mitchell Marsh, a big part of their plan to frontload their batting, didn't quite respond immediately to moving down to No. 3 midway in the tournament. After Travis Head and David Warner added 175 in 19.1 overs against New Zealand in Dharamsala, Marsh scored 36 off 51 even as part-time offspinner Glenn Phillips operated at one end. That they won by just five runs despite scoring 388 must have been affirmation that they need to maximise what they can get.
Against Bangladesh, in the final league match of the tournament, Marsh ticked that box with an innings full of power and intent that must sound a warning bugle for their opponents in the coming week.
The plan on paper is great. Power at the top, one circuit breaker in the middle, and then more power in the end. However, Marsh's numbers at No. 3 raised the question whether the fit was right. Coming into this match, he averaged 23.35 at 83.84 per 100 balls, a significant drop from his stats when opening: 55.4 at 113.75.
In an 87-match career, in which Marsh has batted in eight different positions, the sample size is expectedly small. So small that this innings has taken his average at No. 3 to 36 and strike rate to 96.55.
It is no insignificant innings: 177 runs off just 132 balls in Australia's biggest successful chase in a World Cup match, with 17 fours and nine sixes, which makes it more than one boundary every over. It had all the trademarks of a Marsh innings. Respect the ball if the length is in-between, but if it is full or short, be brutal. The clubbing blows down the ground and into the covers used all his reach and power.
Marsh was not shy to use his feet against spin to create that length. He scored 92 off 72 balls from the Bangladesh spinners. Coming into this match, Marsh's career strike rate against spin was 77.94 as opposed to 109.27 against pace. So this was an obvious course correction Australia needed, having decided to bat Marsh at No. 3 in a World Cup in India, where spin inevitably plays a role.
It helped that Marsh got seven overs of powerplay field restrictions and the two new balls to get stuck into. It is different to starting when the pitch is slowing down and the ball is losing some of its shine. Those challenges might yet arrive, but Marsh said it was important that he maintained this same intent.
"I sort of knew that when Heady came back in that I was gonna go down to three," Marsh said when asked about the switch to No. 3 at the post-match presentation. "I think the most important thing for me is to play with that same intent and back myself. And I guess that's the sort of way we wanna play our cricket. Me coming in at 3 and keep trying to apply the pressure. I probably had a few games in the middle of the tournament where I lost my intent. So it was really good to sort of learn quickly and back myself. I'm probably gonna fail a few times, but hopefully, I come off more than I don't."
On a personal front, there have been challenges for Marsh, who travelled to Australia and back after the death of his grandfather. "I'm sure my nana and mom and all the family will be watching at home, so hopefully it's put a smile on their face," Marsh said. "My pop was a great man, and they celebrated his life yesterday afternoon. I'm sure they probably had a few beers too, so, yeah, it was nice to be able to perform for the family, but just good to get a win."
Having been earmarked for greatness from a young age to having reached a point where he was resigned to "most of Australia hates me", Marsh's career has not been the best utilisation of rare talent: ability to bowl serious heat and also to bat as well as he does.
And yet, even without reaching 100 internationals in any format, Marsh has collected for himself an impressive highlights reel: captaining Australia to the Under-19 World Cup and the many BBL titles with Perth Scorchers aside, he was the Player of the Match when Australia finally won the T20 World Cup in 2021, he gritted out a draw to retain the Ashes earlier this year to go with a scintillating century earlier in the series, and now he has matched father Geoff's two centuries when Australia won the World Cup in India in 1987, and is only two behind his tally of 428.
As he stands on the cusp of another possible highlights week, Marsh can rest assured that more than just most of Australia, in his words when he lamented the dislike for him, "respect me for the fact I keep coming back". Batting was arguably not even his stronger suit when he started out, but here he is, winning them all over with the bat. And there is time still: he is only 32.