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Match Analysis

Mitchell Marsh, the comeback king

Time and again he has been written off, time and again he proves people wrong

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
Mitchell Marsh kept the scoreboard moving after Bharat fell cheaply, Delhi Capitals vs Rajasthan Royals, IPL 2022, DY Patil, Navi Mumbai, May 11, 2022

Mitchell Marsh battled through Covid-19 earlier in the season  •  BCCI

"Most of Australia hate me. There's no doubt that I've had a lot of opportunity and haven't quite nailed it, but hopefully they can respect me for the fact I keep coming back… hopefully I'll win them over one day."
This was Mitchell Marsh, speaking after picking up his maiden Test five-for in 2019. It was supposed to be a happy occasion, but it was overshadowed by a decade of under-performance. After all, Marsh had first made heads turn in 2010, at the Under-19 World Cup, and later that year for the Deccan Chargers as an 18-year-old.
At the time, Adam Gilchrist, captain of the defending champions, spoke glowingly of the boy from Perth who could hit a long ball and take big wickets. He was deemed the "perfect package".
Little did Gilchrist, or anyone else, know that Marsh would play all of 27 IPL games over the next 12 years. Or for that matter, no more than 36 T20Is for Australia since his debut in October 2011. But he kept coming back. Not quite as the finisher that everyone expected to be, but as a No. 3 who would go on to win a T20 World Cup.
On Wednesday, nearly six months after that surreal innings in the final in Dubai, Marsh was at it again. And like then, there was no inkling of this being his night. Covid-19 had pushed him to the sidelines of an IPL season which began while he was nursing a hip flexor injury.
When you've been as injury prone as Marsh has been, you're playing as if every game is possibly your last. Remember the opening game of IPL 2020? A hobbling Marsh, who was one of Sunrisers Hyderabad's big-ticket signings, had to leave the tournament due to a "moderate- to high-grade syndesmosis injury" in his right ankle and saw his season go up in smoke.
This wasn't a final, but the stakes were still high. Delhi Capitals, his third IPL franchise, had outbid Sunrisers, his former team, and new entrants Gujarat Titans to secure his services of INR 6.5 crore (USD 866,000 approx) for precisely magic like this. A chase of 161 a sluggish pitch was no walk in the park for a team that had to win to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Then, he walked into bat at the fall of the first wicket in the very first over. The scoreboard didn't move for the next two, as Rajasthan Royals, perhaps the best bowling attack in the competition, kept coming at him. Marsh's season - not to mention his whole team's as well - was going to be defined by the passage of play over the next 90 minutes.
He was initially at sea when Prasidh Krishna tested him with hard lengths. Inside edges rolled off the pads, out swingers whizzed past the outside edge, cut shots going nowhere, playing and missing at deliveries that reared up - it was all happening. But Marsh didn't seem agitated, not even after playing out a maiden over.
In the third over, he had a massive slice of luck. The ball from Trent Boult swung in late and struck him on the boot right in front of the stumps. Royals appealed but the umpire was unmoved. Everyone thought there had been an inside edge. There wasn't. Marsh was on 1 off 9 deliveries. As he looked at the replay on the giant screen, there was a grin and a fist bump with Warner.
"If you looked at the powerplay tonight for both teams," Marsh said later, "the ball was swinging around, also nipping around, probably one of the toughest powerplays I've batted in since I started playing T20 cricket. We just had to get through that unscathed. If we are two or three down, the game gets really hard. So we assessed that we have got to cut back on our runs and make sure we're just one down at the end of the power play.
"Lot of credit to them [Royals], they bowled exceptionally well in the powerplay to us and made it really tough, but chasing 160, you only need that one big partnership and that was our main focus. The last 18 months, I've loved batting with Davey [Warner]. Him opening and me batting at three, we've had a lot of great partnerships. Tonight was a memorable one for the Delhi Capitals."
Marsh made the plan sound simple, but it needed a lot of work, starting with a change in stance. Normally, he bats on leg stump and then shuffles across just as the ball is delivered. But that was leaving him wide open to Boult's inswingers. So, he took guard just a little outside leg stump. Now he could keep his natural trigger movement and not worry about the lbw.
R Ashwin came on for the next over. Marsh had seen enough. Length deliveries into the pitch were causing batters some discomfort. He knew that because that had been his modus operandi earlier in the night - mixed in with cutters and slower ones - to pick up two massive wickets. At the first sign of something full, Marsh opened his shoulders and crunched Ashwin for six over long-off. He had picked the carrom ball off the hand and went inside-out. It came as a massive relief. The fist bump with Warner after the shot, which he stood back and admired on the giant screen, told you how much he enjoyed it. It was the start of superb spell of batting.
Marsh was in control even without really imposing himself. He played to his strengths rather than trying to outfox the bowler or second guess what was coming. It was just simple and clean hitting that comes from picking the lengths - and the spin - early. It must have helped that he was batting with a great mate. Warner was with him at the other end on that famous night in Dubai. And he was with him again, just turning the strike over so he could sit back and watch from the best seat in the house.
As if to say thank you, Marsh provided a power-hitting exhibition. The two sixes he hit off Kuldeep Sen in the seventh over - dead straight and over the sight screen - were right out of the top drawer, By then he'd raced to 39 off 28 even as Warner was a run-a-ball 12. The six to bring up his fifty as he took on Chahal was a sign of complete mastery over his batting. From there on, it was a cruise.
"In terms of the way he goes about it, he's someone I've looked up to for a long time now," Marsh said of Warner. "I've been very lucky, over the last 18 months, to have been able to bat with him a lot and form a great partnership and great friendship. The friendship side of things comes out in the middle of the game. His experience, calmness - you can all see how much he loves winning. It feels like he's back to where it all began for him. He's been super consistent this year, I love batting with him."
Marsh couldn't quite finish the job, but by the time he was dismissed in the 18th over, he'd made 89 off 63 and taken the Capitals to the doorstep. As he walked back, soaking in the applause, he had served a quiet reminder, something that he has had to right through the career. That he wasn't to be counted out. Not now, not for the next few years. At 30, the possibilities are endless.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo