Time has been unofficially called on Shaun Marsh’s career more times than his dodgy hamstrings have twinged. Now, though, it really does look like we’ve seen the last of the veteran batsman in Australian colours.
Marsh, who turns 36 years old on Tuesday, was withdrawn from Australia’s World Cup squad yesterday after being hit on the right forearm by a short ball, causing a fracture which will require surgery.
Even before this injury it looked as though this World Cup could be Marsh’s last outing for Australia. His vast experience was a key reason he was in this squad. But once this tournament is over, and Australia’s ODI team returns to playing comparatively meaningless series, they will very likely look to inject youth into the line-up, just as they’ve done after previous World Cups.
The likes of Peter Handscomb and Ashton Turner will surely get opportunities ahead of Marsh, who will be retired by the time the next World Cup rolls around in 2023. Meanwhile, it seems as if the selectors had already moved on from Marsh the Test cricketer.
Had they wanted to try to revive his flagging Test career they would have given him the two Tests against Sri Lanka last summer to fill his boots. Instead, he got the axe. In his absence, the likes of Kurtis Patterson, Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne got Test opportunities.
Each of those batsmen are at least ten years younger than Marsh. It seemed like a clear changing of the guard. Any slim chance of Marsh making an unlikely Test comeback in this Ashes, perhaps if the selectors gambled on experience, was erased yesterday by a nasty Pat Cummins bouncer.
It was unfortunate to see many Australian fans verging on celebration at the news of Marsh’s injury. “Thank god, finally he’s gone,” was the rough sentiment of a slew of comments I read online. The West Australian has become a lightning rod for hate.
As opposed to his long-time teammate David Warner, who is widely disliked by fans due to his boorish on-field antics and admitted cheating, Marsh has always been a decent character. He has done nothing to bring scorn upon himself. Aside, that is, from failing to meet the expectations of thousands of people he’s never met.
It is a curious element of cricket fandom that so many people get furious at players for supposedly not justifying their selection. These fans are well aware the players do not get to pick themselves, yet rail at them regardless.
There is no doubt Marsh has been fortunate to be selected in Tests as often as he has been. I’ve written articles criticising his inclusion in the Test XI. More than once. But I never felt the need to denigrate Marsh the man. It wasn’t his fault he kept getting picked.
Many others didn’t agree though. Some felt he was the beneficiary of “nepotism”. Never mind that Shaun is in no way related to Rod Marsh, the former Australian selector. Barely more intelligent were the snide remarks whenever Shaun Marsh was picked in the Australian ODI side. Never mind that he was utterly dominant at domestic level, had performed consistently for Australia and, if anything, was a tad unlucky not to have got more opportunities in ODIs.
Marsh may have been an inconsistent and, ultimately, ordinary Test player. But he was an excellent ODI cricketer, from the start of his career to the end. What’s more is that he was one of very few Australian players who stood up to be counted when the ODI side was falling apart last year.
With Warner and Steve Smith banned, and their gun quicks often unavailable, Australia were a hot mess in 2018. They won just two of their 13 ODIs for the year as England and South Africa bulldozed them. Marsh was not flattened, though. He scored four tons in the space of nine matches against England, South Africa and India, three of the top four ranked teams in ODIs.
Yet, so fervent were his critics, that when Australia’s squad was picked for the March ODI tour of India there were endless comments deriding his selection. Four tons in nine matches? That means nothing. Get someone else in.
Had Marsh never played Test cricket I think he would have been perceived far differently as a cricketer. I believe he would have been more highly valued as a white ball player by Australian fans. Instead he has had to suffer in a similar manner to Shane Watson, who was criminally underappreciated as a limited overs cricketer due to fans conflating Test and white ball performances.
If, as I suspect, Marsh has played his final match for Australia, then he should be tremendously proud of what he’s achieved. He is a key reason that Australia managed to turn around their ODI fortunes and are in a World Cup semi-final.