‘I got the gorilla off my back’: Mitch and Shaun Marsh reflect on their favourite Ashes moment

It could have been a defining Ashes moment for all the wrong reasons, robbing two players of their place in history.

Instead, a center wicket embrace between Mitch and Shawn Marsh during the 2017/18 series at Sydney Cricket Ground culminated in one of the most memorable tests for these two young brothers.

The Book of Hugs ended a summer of cricket that belonged in the marsh, shrugging off years of cynicism over their choice to play a major role in Australia’s reclamation of ashes on home soil.

Sean Marsh celebrates a century against England at SCG(AAP / Dean Lowens)

“It’s been a really nice summer,” Sean told ABC.

Heading to The Ashes, I wasn’t sure I’d be back on the audition team, but I did some performances on the board for WA and then found myself playing on the Home Ashes series.

“Playing well – winning by four goals – was a great experience.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by younger brother Mitch.

He said, “I missed the first two wins, and I kind of felt like I had parachuted down to win the Ashes.

Shawn was coming off a poor tour of India where, despite posting half a century ago, he still averaged 18 out of eight innings in the Indian subcontinent.

Mitch was also struggling, doing 48 rounds and bowling only five times in the two Tests before a shoulder injury ended his tour.

The test and fitness model suggested that Marsh’s brother would not be selected for the Ashes, and indeed Mitch was not selected in the first two tests.

Despite this, Sean got a reprieve, and Faith of the Chosen Ones paid off half a century in Brisbane as well as an unbeaten 126 in Adelaide. A performance that earned him the best player of the match.

The roles were also what started the summer of the marsh.

Novel in WACA

Mitch Marsh, in cricket uniform, roars after cutting Australia's first Test horn at WACA grounds
Mitch Marsh releases his emotions after he published his first test century at WACA in 2017.(AAP / Dave Hunt)

Mitch Marsh has experienced a love/hate relationship with the Australian cricket crowd, with those outside of Western Australia sometimes making fun of his Test choices.

His statistics prior to that summer indicated that the audience’s attitude, which arose from feeling that his title was more than his form, was justified.

Mitch had run 674 times in 21.74 of the 21 previous exams, with only half two centuries to his name.

He did no better with the ball, claiming 29 wickets in 37.

Australian batsman
Mitch’s appearance in the 2017/18 Ashes series raised many questions about his casting.(Getty Images / Michael Dodge)

For comparison, England star Andrew Flintoff averaged 31.77 with the bat and 32 with the ball in his 79 Test runs.

“For the Australian audience, I think it’s always been talked about, but it’s not something I notice very often,” Mitch said.

“I didn’t really consider it a second coming or anything like that. It’s just you being chosen to do the job.

“And that summer, I was able to be really consistent.”

This consistency began with the third ash test.

It was the last game to be played in WACA, with a Perth stadium opening on the horizon, so it was fitting that one of the WA favorites gave his first memorable Test Century, smashing 17 curbs on his way to the 131-ton ball.

“They always talked about the monkey in the back,” Mitch said.

“As you get a little bit older, and mature, you stop worrying about that and focus on playing your part on the team and that’s what my focus has been on this series.

“There is no doubt that it allowed me to go out and play and get the gorillas off my back. It was very special.”

Crowd of fans at WACA Ground cheering after Mitch Marsh hit a Test Century in 2017
A large WACA crowd celebrated Mitch Marsh’s first Test Century, at the final test held at the venue.(AAP / Dean Lowens)

Jeff Marsh was sitting at Lil Marsh’s stand that day, watching his son strike with Steve Smith while the hosts stop the tourists.

Jeff remembers Mitch roles: “The thing I remember most about it was that I just wanted to sit back and relax and watch the game.”

“You always have people coming in and saying ‘Oh, it’s going well’ and all that.

“So it ran counter to a lot of the things we traditionally do as a family.”

Jeff views Mitch’s first century as a giant step in his career, as he finally joins Big Brother Sean as the Hundred Leader.

“At the end of the day, Shawn walked in, and then Mitch followed in Shawn’s footsteps,” Jeff said. “There are a lot of people who just thought it was going to happen.

“Test cricket is really hard. It is the hardest game of cricket you will play.

“I think every player who plays test cricket as a batsman wants to hit 100 in their hometown.

“It’s so special to have 100 people in your town. I didn’t do that.”

History in Sydney

Sean and Mitch Marsh get distracted by a hug
Mitch (right) celebrates with Sean after making a second horn at SCG.(AFP: Rick Rycroft)

From Don Bradman who only needed four in his recent innings to average 100 (and make a duck), to Sri Lanka’s Sana Jayasuriya who has more international wickets for a day than Shane Warren (albeit from a lot of matches), cricket is Gameplay rich in random facts and statistical quirks.

One of those stats is the list of brothers who have auditioned for centuries in the same roles.

On a warm January afternoon in 2018, Mitch and Sean Marsh became the third duo to do so, joining Ian, Greg Chappelle, Steve and Mark Wu.

But that almost didn’t happen, after Shaun stopped early to hug Mitch halfway down the wicket while the younger Marsh was passing through the second century of the series.

“I think Sean thought he went for four,” Mitch said. “I knew it didn’t happen because it was kind of a half-shank.

“I knew I obviously won 100, so I wanted to celebrate, but I could also see Sean coming straight for me.

Australian batsmen celebrate
A shuffling nearly mid-tuck sabotaged what, seconds later, became an iconic Ashes moment.(Getty Images / Cameron Spencer)

“It’s priceless. I mean, I knew what was going on, but I still hugged him anyway.”

Shaun remembers nothing more than wanting to celebrate this moment with his younger brother, as shots of them cuddling hilariously become an Ashes classic.

“There was nothing going on in my head but wanting to hug Mitch,” Shaun said.

“Once the ball went across the court, I thought it would go for four, or the ball was dead, and I could just run to hug him and tell him well done.

“And suddenly he pushed me back and said, ‘Go in your crease!’ I almost did.

“But in the end it all went well, and it was so amazing to be together in the Sydney Test match and score hundreds.”

From the backyard to the SCG

Sean and Mitch Marsh pose with Ashes Pitcher with their dad Jeff, after winning the 2017/18 Series at WACA
Sean and Mitch joined their father Jeff in the list of Australian cricketers to score centuries in the Ashes winning campaign.(Getty Images / Ryan Percy)

From Jeff’s debut against India at the Adelaide Oval in 1985, to Mitch’s tournaments at the 2021 T20 World Cup, the marsh has been woven through the fabric of the national team for nearly 40 years.

Jeff did two test centuries against England: in Brisbane in 1986 and Nottingham three years later.

But watching his sons record centuries together at SCG was something more special.

“Everyone wants to record pods in the SCG,” he said.

“I know that for Mitch and Sean, they are very close to Steve Wu, ‘Toga.

Australian batsman
Steve Waugh is on his way to crashing a ton at the SCG to help win the Ashes in 2003.(Getty Images / Nick Wilson)

“He was their hero, and to see what Stephen did there, I think that was always on the back of their mind.”

Waugh and Mitch developed a close relationship, walking together every day during the Ashes Tour of England for 2019.

“I was always Steve Waugh in the backyard,” Mitch said.

“The way he was driving, and I was always hit with a red handkerchief.

“He was always a hero in my childhood.

“I think you always try to emulate the heroes.”

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