Sweet Shield relief for Shaun Marsh
WA captain 'shed a few tears' after winning the Sheffield Shield for the first time in his 21-year career
The tears said it all. Shaun Marsh has had countless triumphs over a 21-year professional career. He's made 13 international centuries for Australia, won Ashes series, Border-Gavaskar trophies, been the leading runscorer in an IPL, won multiple BBL and Australia domestic 50-over titles.
But raising the Sheffield Shield aloft as Western Australia captain, something his father Geoff Marsh had done, something no WA captain had done in 23 years, could be his greatest achievement as a cricketer.
"It's pretty emotional to be honest," Marsh said. "I've shed a few tears.
"It's definitely up there. Dad always spoke about his Shield wins as being the highlight of his career and this feeling that I've got inside my body now it's definitely up there and I'm just so happy for the playing group."
It might be the perfect way to finish for Marsh. He began his Shield career as a 17-year-old with Western Australia in 2001, three years before his current team-mate Teague Wyllie was even born. But the 38-year-old, who has a year to run on his state contract with WA and has signed a two-year contract extension with Melbourne Renegades in the BBL, has not decided on his future just yet.
"I'm not too sure," Marsh said. "I'm not going to worry about it for a few days. I'm really going to enjoy this moment and enjoy it with the boys. We've really earned this moment. It's been a few years in the making this and I'll sit down with [coach Adam Voges] at some stage and we'll see what next year looks like but at the moment I'm not even going to think about it. I'm going to celebrate with the boys and really cherish this moment."
WA were made to earn the title by an unrelenting Victoria outfit. They narrowly claimed the bonus point lead in the first innings thanks a superb 141 from Cameron Bancroft. Victoria coach Chris Rogers said it was the best he had ever seen Bancroft bat.
Then Aaron Hardie and Joel Paris orchestrated a Victoria collapse taking three wickets each after the visitors looked poised to snatch the bonus point lead and give themselves the opportunity to take the title with a drawn game. It gave WA a first-innings lead of 80.
But there was one more twist in the tail on day four. Two quick wickets saw WA slump to 5 for 110, with a lead of just 190, and over five sessions left in the match. However, Sam Whiteman and Hardie both made centuries to put the game to bed and ease Marsh's nerves.
"I battled through day four," Marsh said. "It was probably the best and worst day of my life to be honest. The emotions were going through my body and I couldn't be more proud of Sammy and Hards in that partnership.
"The game was in the balance and the way those two came out and batted it was just incredible and really put us into a commanding position. That partnership [is] up there with the best I've seen in 21 years."
Hardie finished with 174 not out, his highest first-class score, while Whiteman made 123 to go with his 85 in the first innings and faced over 500 balls in the match to be named player of the final.
It was a special result for Whiteman, who played alongside Marsh, Bancroft and Voges in WA's only other Shield finals during their 23-year title drought. Both were losing draws against New South Wales in 2013-14 and Victoria in 2014-15.
"It's very special," Whiteman said. "It means a lot to everyone in the group, and it varies from person to person. But you think of Shaun who's played for 20-odd years. A lot of the group has played for 10 years now and we probably messed up a few chances along the way. You start doubting whether it's going to come but it feels amazing."
Whiteman's performance is made all the more extraordinary given he has reinvented himself as an opening batter, after playing as a specialist wicketkeeper in WA's previous two finals before a finger injury forced him to give away the gloves.
"Before the game my wife said to me, who would have thought you know, seven or eight years after your last Shield final that you'd be playing as an opening batter," Whiteman said. "And yeah, I wouldn't have guessed it, going from the keeper to opening. It's special to be part of the team, play my small role, and, yeah, just pumped for WA cricket."
Victoria captain Peter Handscomb was left to ponder several decisions he and his side made throughout the five days including sending WA in after winning the toss and failing to chase the bonus point lead harder in the first innings.
"I'm still okay with the toss," Handscomb said. "I think hindsight is an interesting one. Looking back, we probably could have gone harder at the bonus point and then we get to try and control the game and try and get the draw that way. But at the time, we thought the wicket would deteriorate a little bit more than it did. We thought we'd be able to force a result somehow whether it be a win or a loss.
"We didn't really expect the pitch to kind of play like that. To see no cracks on a WACA wicket day four or five is a little bit interesting."
Handscomb had no qualms with WA batting Victoria out of the game noting his side would have done the same had they been in the same position. As disappointed as he was with the result, he was delighted for Marsh, who he played alongside for several years with Australia.
"Bloody happy for Sos," Handscomb said. "He's a good mate of mine. It's good that he's been able to do that."
Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo