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Tensions of a doting dad

As a Test opener, Geoff Marsh stood squarely in the sights of fast-bowling terrors such as Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Patrick Patterson, Wasim Akram and Imran Khan

Daniel Brettig
Daniel Brettig
Shaun Marsh was the 19th Australian to score a century on Test debut, Sri Lanka v Australia, 2nd Test, Pallekele, 3rd day, September 10, 2011

Shaun Marsh went past his father's highest Test score on debut  •  Associated Press

As a Test opener, Geoff Marsh stood squarely in the sights of fast-bowling terrors such as Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Patrick Patterson, Wasim Akram and Imran Khan. Yet their bullets were nothing next to those sweated by Marsh as he watched his son Shaun fight his way to a Test century on debut for Australia against Sri Lanka in Pallekele.
Shaun Marsh was composure itself for the 420 minutes and 315 balls he spent crafting 141, but Geoff Marsh endured every moment with all the anxiety of a doting dad. Sitting in the enclosure at the pavilion end for the players' families, Marsh senior's every grimace, clap, interview and, when the debut century arrived, fist pump, was captured by cameras - fatherhood as a spectator sport.
"Sitting here watching is bloody nerve-wracking, but that's got to be the highlight of my life, watching Shaun get a hundred on Test debut," Geoff Marsh said. "I'm more nervous when he's in his 90s [than when I was], a lot more nervous."
In addition to being a father, Geoff Marsh is also a coach, and may yet become Sri Lanka's new national team mentor. His critique of the century was warm but fair-minded: Shaun Marsh walked out to bat at No. 3 in place of the absent Ricky Ponting, and produced the kind of performance neither Ponting nor the captain Michael Clarke have been able to for 22 innings each.
"He's played nice and straight and waited for the bad ball, and he's played a really good No. 3 innings," Geoff Marsh said. "Big shoes to fill when you take over from Ricky. He just knew he had a big job to do and he set about doing it. I think that's the way he's batted.
"Because he's played at the WACA, I think that always helps, being able to let the ball go. When you want to build a big innings, there's days you get out there and get away to a good start, you feel good, they bowl you a couple of half volleys, but he didn't get that yesterday, so he just had to be patient and build a partnership and that's exactly what he did."
Patience has not always been in evidence from the younger Marsh. A blazing century for Western Australia against New South Wales as a teenager had seemed to indicate that things would come easily for a batsman more obviously talented than his father. But it took more than eight years for that promise to be realised, time Marsh senior felt was integral to his son's maturation.
"Definitely, it's a hard road," Geoff Marsh said. "Because for three or four years there, you couldn't get into the Australian side, no matter how many runs you were making, they were such a good side. It's been a long journey and sometimes you are a better cricketer when you've got to go through the hard times and then you come out the other end a better cricketer.
"Shaun's done that, he's had to work hard, but the one thing he's always said he's dreamed of is to get the baggy green. When he's playing for Australia in T20 and one-dayers, his dream was to win a baggy green and I think he hung in there."
Shaun Marsh has been among family, friends and mentors this week, as his former coach Tom Moody watched from the commentary box and his longtime West Australia team-mate Michael Hussey was at the other end throughout a partnership of 258 to bat Sri Lanka out of the Test. Geoff Marsh presented his son's first Test cap, a moment rich with emotion.
"I've got to say just being asked to do the cap [presentation] was a real honour. You think of every father whose son is playing cricket in Australia, it'd be a dream to give your kid the baggy green, and it was just fantastic," he said. "He rang me last night and I just said well done and the same old dad thing, 'play straight, hit the bad ball'."
As Allan Border's loyal vice-captain while the Australian team was regenerated from 1987 to 1992, Marsh was perhaps the most team-oriented of cricketers. He sold his wicket dearly, and a Test batting average of 33.18 scarcely does justice to the job he did blunting many of the aforementioned speedsters. Marsh did not seem as concerned with his own success anywhere near as much as the development of the team, and that old trait was raised again the moment that his son passed his highest score.
As Shaun punched through straight midwicket for the boundary that took him past his father's 138 against England at Trent Bridge in 1989, Geoff Marsh wondered aloud. "Yeah he would know what it is, has he gone past it? I couldn't remember..."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here