‘I Got the Gorilla Off the Back’: Mitch and Shaun Marsh Reflect on Their Favorite Ashes Moment

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

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

The hug book put an end to a summer of cricket that belonged to the Marshes, and shook off years of cynicism over their selection to play a key role in Australia’s return to the Ashes on home soil.

Shaun Marsh SCG ieu 2018
Shaun Marsh celebrates his century against England at the SCG(AAP / Dean Lewins)

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

“In Ashes, I was not sure I would be back in the test team, but I put a few appearances on the board for WA and found myself playing in a home Ashes series.

“To play well in it – to win four-zero – was a great experience.”

It’s a sentiment that is being repeated by younger brother Mitch.

“I missed the first two wins,” he said, “and I felt a little like I was standing in the parachute to win an Ashes.

Shaun came from a poor tour through India where, despite placing two half-centuries, he still averaged just 18 of eight innings on the subcontinent.

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

Test form and fitness suggested that no Marsh brother would be selected for the Ashes, and indeed, Mitch was not selected for the first two tests.

Shaun, however, got a proposal, and rewarded the selectors’ faith with a half-century in Brisbane as well as an unbeaten 126 in Adelaide; an achievement that earned him player of the match.

It was also the entrance that started the summer of the Marshes.

Fairytale at the WACA

Mitch Marsh, in cricket uniform, roars after making his first Test century for Australia at the WACA Ground
Mitch Marsh expresses his emotion after placing his first Test century at the WACA in 2017.(AAP / Dave Hunt)

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

His statistics prior to that summer suggested that the attitude of the public, which stemmed from a feeling that his last name mattered more than his form, was justified.

Mitch had made 674 runs on 21.74 of his previous 21 Tests, with only two half-centuries to his name.

He did not have much better with the ball, and required 29 wickets at 37.

Australian batsman
The form of Mitch who appeared in the 2017/18 Ashes series had many questions about his selection.(Getty Images / Michael Dodge)

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

“As far as the Australian public is concerned, I think it’s always talked about, but it’s not something I take much notice of,” Mitch said.

“I did not really see it as a second coming or anything. It’s just that you’re chosen to do the work.

“And that summer I could be really consistent.”

That association began with the third Ashes Test.

It was the last match played at WACA, with the opening of Perth Stadium on the horizon, so it was fitting that one of WA’s favorite sons would deliver an unforgettable first Test century, and 17 borders throws on its way to a 131-ton ball.

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

“As you get a little 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 I could go out and play with it and get the gorilla off my back. It was very special.”

Many fans at the WACA Ground cheer after Mitch Marsh made a test century in 2017
A large WACA audience celebrates the first Test century of Mitch Marsh, in the last Test played on the spot.(AAP / Dean Lewins)

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

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

“You’ve always come up with people who say‘ Oh, it’s going well ’and all that.

“That went against a lot of things we traditionally do as a family.”

Geoff viewed the first century of Mitch as a gigantic step in his career, and eventually joined 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 are a lot of people who just thought it was going to happen.

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

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

“It’s very, very special to get 100 in your place of residence. I did not do that.”

History in Sydney

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

From Don Bradman who only needed four in his last innings to have an average of 100 (and to make an end), to Sanath Jayasuriya of Sri Lanka with more international wickets of one day than Shane Warne (though of many more matches), cricket is a game rich in random facts and statistical peculiarities.

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

On a hot January afternoon in 2018, Mitch and Shaun Marsh became just the third couple to do so, along with Ian and Greg Chappell and Steve and Mark Waugh.

But that hardly happened, after Shaun stopped early to hug Mitch halfway through the wicket when the younger Marsh ran through for his second century of the series.

“I think Shaun thought it was going for four,” Mitch said. “I knew it was not because it was kind of a half-scale.

“I knew I had made 100 of course, so I wanted to celebrate, but I could also see Shaun coming right in front of me.

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

“It’s pretty indefinite. I mean, I knew what was going on, but I went in for the hug anyway.”

Shaun remembers nothing more than that he wanted to celebrate the moment with his younger brother, with the images of the two happily embracing, becoming a direct Ashes classic.

“Nothing went through my head except that I just wanted to give Mitch a hug,” Shaun said.

“Once the ball came 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 goodbye to him.

“And then he suddenly pushed me back and said, ‘Come on your lap!’ and I almost ran out.

“But in the end it all went well, and it was pretty great to be together in a Sydney Test match that scored 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 put their father Geoff on the list of Australian cricketers to score centuries in a winning Ashes campaign.(Getty Images / Ryan Pierse)

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

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

But seeing his sons score centuries together at the SCG was still something 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 hitting a ton at the SCG to help win the Ashes in 2003.(Getty Images / Nick Wilson)

“He was her hero, and to know what Stephen did there, I think that was always in the back of her mind.”

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

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

“The way he was captain, and I always hit with my red handkerchief.

“He was always a hero of mine when I was growing up.

“I think you always try to emulate heroes.”

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