Mitchell Marsh doesn’t know exactly how much money he will lose by playing county cricket rather than the IPL this year. But if the fruits of the decision are more innings like his two contrasting and valuable efforts in Perth and Melbourne, Marsh will happily accept the deficit.
In 2016, Marsh was signed for $1 million (INR 4.8 crore) by Rising Pune Supergiant in the IPL auction, and was likely to fetch an even higher price this year. However in 2018 he has chosen to strive for greater effectiveness as a Test batsman by linking up with the former Australia batting coach Michael Di Venuto at Surrey. There is of course the knowledge that as a top-tier Australian cricketer, Marsh stands to earn plenty of money in the long term.
The county stint is part of a holistic approach to building a Test career that has also featured plenty of work with a personal batting coach in Scott Meuleman, plus taking the advice of Justin Langer, Darren Lehmann and his father Geoff among others. By Marsh’s own admission his return to the Test team arrived ahead of schedule, but that has only provided greater motivation to stay on his chosen path.
“It was a fairly big decision from a money point of view but my ultimate goal is to play Test match cricket for Australia,” Marsh said in Sydney. “That’s the lure of the IPL – the money and playing in India, but I made the decision based on my cricket.
“When I made that decision I didn’t really think I was going to be back there this quickly. But I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to play 14 red-ball games over there – if I can, and try and improve.
“Looking forward we’ve got a lot of cricket coming up in England over the next few years and I want to give myself the best opportunity to be over there and get used to the conditions.”
Di Venuto saw Marsh’s struggles with the moving ball at first hand during the 2015 Ashes series, when his hard hands and tendency to throw them at the ball after pressing instinctively forward made him tender prey for James Anderson and Stuart Broad. In this series Marsh has already shown an ability to play the ball more comfortably under his eyes, and wants to continue down that path.
“I certainly understood that [I needed to adapt better] when we went there for the Ashes a couple of years ago,” Marsh said. “Playing in their conditions for a whole summer, I’ll get flat wickets, I’ll get wickets that seam and swing. hopefully I’ll be able to come up with a gameplan to deal with that.
“Diva’s there, Michael Di Venuto is the coach and he was our batting coach for three years. I’ve got a really close relationship with him and I feel it’s a great place to bat, which is my main priority going over there.
“I spoke to Boof [Darren Lehmann] about it, spoke to Justin Langer about it – and obviously my old man. They all said it was a good idea but ultimately the decision was mine and I’m very happy with it.”
Also a source of happiness was the way Marsh handled the mental hurdle of batting for survival in Melbourne rather than looking overtly for runs. While the flatness of the MCG pitch and the cool head of the captain Steven Smith at the other end helped, Marsh still had to grind it out – and overcome early nerves.
“I said to him [Smith] as we were walking off that I was proud,” Marsh said. “Probably the biggest thing I was most happy about it is that 12 months ago with my mental side of my game I probably don’t think I could have got through that. While I know it was the flattest wicket in cricket history, to apply myself for that long and not really care about scoring is something I’ve gained a lot of confidence from.
“I think I’ve said it for a couple of weeks now, I’ve been a lot more relaxed with this preparation when I came back to the Test team. I knew the gameplan I’d have to go out there with and it was about sticking to that for as long as we needed to get the draw.
“There’s always nerves. I was very nervous, I felt like I was going to get out any ball in the first 20 balls, which can happen on those sort of wickets when it’s reversing. I felt really confident in my game plan once I got in, that I was able to do the job.”
One of the sore points of the recent MoU dispute between Cricket Australia and the players was that numerous top players were offered multi-year deals in exchange for missing the IPL. Marsh’s example has proven that personal improvement is as great a motivator for making the same call as any contractual blandishments.
“I’ve worked extremely hard over the last nine months to make sure I have a game that can adapt to all conditions,” he said. “I realise I’ve only done that now in two Test innings and have a long way to go, but I’ve certainly gained a lot of confidence from the last few weeks.”