Ashes 40 for 40: The summer that made the Marsh brothers

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

Instead, the centre-wicket embrace between Mitch and Shaun Marsh during the 2017/18 series at the Sydney Cricket Ground capped off one of the most memorable Tests for these two young brothers.

The hug book-ended a summer of cricket that belonged to the Marshes, shrugging off years of cynicism over their selection to play a major role in Australia’s reclamation of the Ashes on home soil.

Shaun Marsh celebrates his century against England at the SCG(AAP/Dean Lewins)

“It was a pretty amazing summer,” Shaun told the ABC.

“Heading into the Ashes, I wasn’t sure I’d be back in the Test team, but I put a few performances on the board for WA and then found myself playing in a home Ashes series.

“To play well in it — to win four-nil — was an amazing experience.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by younger brother Mitch.

“I missed the first two wins,” he said, “and I kind of felt like I was parachuted in to win an Ashes.

Shaun was coming off a poor tour of India where, despite posting two half-centuries, he still only averaged 18 from eight innings on the subcontinent.

Mitch was struggling too, making 48 runs and bowling just five overs in his two Tests before a shoulder injury ended his tour.

Test form and fitness suggested neither Marsh brother would be picked for the Ashes, and indeed Mitch wasn’t selected for the first two Tests. 

Shaun, though, was handed a reprieve, and repaid the selectors’ faith with a half-century in Brisbane as well as an unbeaten 126 in Adelaide; a performance that earned him player of the match.

It was also the innings that kick-started the summer of the Marshes.

Fairytale at the WACA

Mitch Marsh, in cricket uniform, roars after making his maiden Test century for Australia at the WACA Ground
Mitch Marsh lets out his emotion after posting his maiden Test century at the WACA in 2017.(AAP/Dave Hunt)

Mitch Marsh has endured a love/hate relationship with the Australian cricketing public, with those outside Western Australia sometimes cynical about his Test selections.

His stats prior to that summer suggested that the public’s attitude, which stemmed from a feeling his surname counted for more than his form, was justified.

Mitch had made 674 runs at 21.74 from his previous 21 Tests, with just two half-centuries to his name.

He hadn’t fared much better with the ball, claiming 29 wickets at 37.

Australian batsman
Mitch’s form coming into the 2017/18 Ashes series had many questioning his selection.(Getty Images/Michael Dodge)

For comparison, England great Andrew Flintoff averaged 31.77 with the bat and 32 with the ball across his 79 Tests.

“As for the Australian public, I think it’s always been spoken about, but it’s not something that I take a lot of note of,” Mitch said.

“I didn’t really see it as a second coming or anything like that. It’s just you get picked to do the job.

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

That consistency started with the third Ashes Test.

It was the final game to be played at the WACA, with the opening of Perth Stadium on the horizon, so it was fitting that one of WA’s favourite sons would deliver an unforgettable first Test century, smashing 17 boundaries on his way to a 131-ball ton.

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

“As you get a bit older, and mature, you stop worrying about that and you focus on playing your role for the team and that’s what my focus was for that series.

“There’s no doubt that that allowed me to go out there and play and get the gorilla off my back. It was very special.”

A crowd of fans at the WACA Ground cheer after Mitch marsh made a Test century in 2017
A big WACA crowd celebrate Mitch Marsh’s first Test century, in the final Test played at the venue.(AAP/Dean Lewins)

Geoff Marsh was sitting in the Lillee Marsh Stand that day, watching his son bat with Steve Smith as the hosts ground the tourists down.

“The thing I remember most about it was I just wanted to sit, relax and, watch the game,” Geoff recalled of Mitch’s innings.

“You’ve always got people coming up saying ‘Oh, he’s going well’ and all that.

“So it went against a lot of the things that we traditionally do as a family.”

Geoff views Mitch’s maiden century as a giant step in his career, finally joining older brother Shaun as a centurion.

“At the end of the day, Shaun followed in my footsteps, and then Mitch followed in Shaun’s footsteps,” Geoff said. “There’s a lot of people that just thought that it was going to happen.

“Test cricket is really tough. It’s the hardest cricket you’ll play.

“I think every single player that plays Test cricket as a batsman wants to make 100 in their home town.

“It’s very, very special to get 100 in your home town. I didn’t do that.”

History in Sydney

Shaun and Mitch Marsh are distracted by hugs
Mitch (right) celebrates with Shaun after making a second century at the SCG.(AP: Rick Rycroft)

From Don Bradman needing just four in his final innings to have an average of 100 (and making a duck), to Sri Lanka’s Sanath Jayasuriya having more one-day international wickets than Shane Warne (albeit from a lot more matches), cricket is a game rich in random facts and statistical quirks.

One of those stats is the list of brothers to make Test centuries in the same innings.

On a warm January afternoon in 2018, Mitch and Shaun Marsh became just the third pair to do so, joining Ian and Greg Chappell and Steve and Mark Waugh.

But it almost didn’t happen, after Shaun stopped early to hug Mitch mid-way down the wicket as the younger Marsh ran through for his second century of the series.

“I think Shaun thought it’d gone for four,” Mitch said. “I knew it hadn’t  because it was sort of a half shank.

“I knew that obviously I’d made 100, so I wanted to celebrate, but I could also see Shaun just coming straight for me.

Australian batsmen celebrate
A mix-up in the middle of the crease almost sabotaged what became, seconds later, an iconic Ashes moment.(Getty Images/Cameron Spencer)

“It’s pretty priceless. I mean, I knew what was happening, but I still went in for the hug anyway.”

Shaun remembers nothing more than wanting to celebrate the moment with his younger brother, with the footage of the two joyfully embracing becoming an instant Ashes classic.

“Nothing was going through my head apart from just wanting to give Mitch a hug,” Shaun said.

“Once the ball got through the field, I thought it would go for four, or the ball was dead, and I could just run up and give him a big hug and say well done to him.

“And then all of a sudden he pushed me back and said, ‘Get onto your crease!’ and I almost got run out.

“But it all worked out well in the end, and it was pretty amazing to be out there together in a Sydney Test match scoring hundreds.”

From the backyard to the SCG

Shaun and Mitch Marsh pose with the Ashes urn with their father Geoff, after winning the 2017/18 series at the WACA
Shaun and Mitch joined their father Geoff on the list of Australian cricketers to score centuries in a winning Ashes campaign.(Getty Images/Ryan Pierse)

From Geoff debuting against India at Adelaide Oval in 1985, through to Mitch’s heroics at the 2021 T20 World Cup, the Marshes have been woven through the fabric of the national team for nearly 40 years.

Geoff made two Test centuries against England: in Brisbane in 1986 and at Nottingham three years later.

But watching his sons score centuries together at the SCG was something even more special.

“Everyone wants to score centuries at the SCG,” he said.

“I know that for Mitch and Shaun, they’re really close with Steve Waugh, ‘Tugga’.

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

“He was their hero, and to know what Stephen’s done on there, I think that was always in the back of their minds.”

Waugh and Mitch have developed a close bond, walking together every day during the 2019 Ashes tour of England.

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

“The way he captained, and I always batted with my red handkerchief.

“He was always a hero of mine growing up.

“I think you’re always trying to emulate heroes.”

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