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 in 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 swamps, pushing aside years of cynicism over their selection to play a major role in Australia’s ash reclamation on home soil.
“It was a pretty amazing summer,” Shaun told the ABC.
“As the Ashes approached, I wasn’t sure if I would return to the Test team, but I put some performances on the board for WA and then found myself playing in an Ashes series at home.
“Playing it well – winning four to nil – was an amazing experience.”
It’s a sentiment shared by younger brother Mitch.
“I missed the first two wins,” he said, “and felt like I was parachuted in to win an Ashes.
Shaun was fresh off a bad tour of India where, despite two half centuries, he still averaged just 18 in eight innings on the subcontinent.
Mitch also struggled, making 48 runs and only getting five overs in his two Tests before a shoulder injury ended his tour.
Test form and physical condition suggested that neither of the Marsh brothers would be chosen for the Ashes, and indeed Mitch was not selected for the first two tests.
Shaun, however, got a reprieve and repaid the selectors’ faith with half a century in Brisbane as well as an unbeaten 126 in Adelaide; a performance that earned him the player of the match award.
These are also the races that launched the Marais summer.
Fairy Tale at WACA
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 statistics before this summer suggested that the public attitude, which stemmed from a feeling that his surname mattered more than his form, was justified.
Mitch had made 674 runs at 21.74 in his previous 21 tests, with just two half centuries under his belt.
He hadn’t fared much better with the ball, claiming 29 wickets from 37.
For comparison, England great Andrew Flintoff averaged 31.77 with the bat and 32 with the ball on his 79 tests.
“As far as Australian audiences, I think it’s always been talked about, but it’s not something that I take much note of,” Mitch said.
“I didn’t really see it as a second coming or anything. It’s just that you’re chosen to do the job.
“And that summer I was able to be really consistent.”
This consistency began with the third test from the ashes.
It was the last match to be played at WACA, with the opening of Perth Stadium on the horizon, so it was only fitting that one of WA’s favorite sons delivered an unforgettable first Test century, breaking 17 limits on its way to a 131-ton bullet.
“They were always talking about the monkey on the back,” Mitch said.
“As you get older and mature you stop caring and focus on your role for the team and that’s what I was focusing on for this series.
“There is no doubt that it allowed me to go play and get rid of the gorilla. It was very special.”
Geoff Marsh sat in the Lillee Marsh Stand that day, watching his son beat Steve Smith as the hosts crushed the tourists.
“What I remember the most is I just wanted to sit back, relax and watch the game,” Geoff recalled of Mitch’s innings.
“There are always people coming in and saying, ‘Oh, he’s fine’ and all that.
“So it went against a lot of things that we traditionally do as a family.”
Geoff considers Mitch’s first century a giant leap in his career, finally joining his 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 thought it was going to happen.
“Test cricket is really tough. It’s the toughest cricket you’ll ever play.
“I think every player who plays Test cricket as a batsman wants to make 100 in his home town.
“It’s very, very special to have 100 in your hometown. I didn’t do that.”
History in Sydney
From Don Bradman needing just four in his final innings to average 100 (and duck), to Sri Lanka’s Sanath Jayasuriya having more one-day international wickets than Shane Warne (albeit by a lot more matches), cricket is a game rich in random facts and statistical oddities.
One of those stats is the list of brothers to go centuries of testing in the same innings.
On a hot 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 that almost didn’t happen, after Shaun stopped early to kiss Mitch halfway through the box office as the young Marsh went through his second century on the show.
“I think Shaun thought it was on for four,” Mitch said. “I knew it wasn’t because it was kind of a half-rod.
“I knew I had obviously done 100 so I wanted to celebrate, but I could also see Shaun coming straight at me.
“It’s pretty priceless. I mean, I knew what was going on, but I accepted the hug anyway.”
Shaun remembers nothing more than wanting to celebrate the moment with his younger brother, with images of the two happily kissing becoming an instant Ashes classic.
“Nothing crossed my mind except wanting to hug Mitch,” Shaun said.
“Once the ball crossed the pitch, I thought it would be fine for four, or the ball was dead, and I could just run up and give him a big hug and say well done.
“And then, all of a sudden, he pushed me away and said, ‘Get in your crease! and I almost ran 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 yard to the CGS
From Geoff making his debut against India at the Adelaide Oval in 1985, to Mitch’s heroics in the 2021 T20 World Cup, the swamps have been woven through the fabric of the national team for nearly 40 year.
Geoff had two centuries of trying against England: at Brisbane in 1986 and at Nottingham three years later.
But seeing his sons mark centuries together at the SCG was something even more special.
“Everyone wants to score centuries at the SCG,” he said.
“I know for Mitch and Shaun, they’re very close to Steve Waugh, ‘Tugga’.
“He was their hero, and knowing what Stephen did there, I think was always on their minds.”
Waugh and Mitch have developed a close bond, walking together every day on the 2019 Ashes tour of England.
“I’ve always been Steve Waugh in the backyard,” Mitch said.
“The way he was captain, and I always hit with my red handkerchief.
“He was always one of my heroes growing up.
“I think you always try to emulate the heroes.”