MCG Test, Australia v India – Day 5: Geoff Marsh – A Father’s Pain

 

 

For the third morning in a row I find P Flynn standing at mid-on to the right hander, ground floor, Members’ end. With him today are wife Annie, and D Fortuna, Warrnambool. Flynny, Dom and I giggle at each other like little boys. We’ve had a great Test match. It’s a shame it’s coming to and end, but you can’t suspend reality forever.

 

‘Swampy’s a nervous watcher,’ Flynny says, gesturing over his left shoulder.

 

Leaning against the railing, peering towards the middle, Geoff Marsh, former Australian opener, and father of Shaun and Mitchell, is watching the former, 62 overnight, nudge his way towards one hundred.

 

I don’t know what Swampy does for a crust these days, but know he’s from Northam, country WA. He has the build of a farmer: big chest and shoulders, strong back and those sunburnt, sinewy forearms he used to grip the bat so determinedly with. He wears a checked shirt, possibly a Christmas present from Mrs Swampy, heavy jeans and shoes, and a small hat over a leathery, weathered face. Although a bit wider in the hips and stomach nowadays, Swampy still looks powerful, as if he could hold his own.

 

Swampy’s expression belies his emotions. His face is blank, passive, as if inspecting cattle at the stockyards. But you can tell he’s nervous. He’s muttering to himself, occasionally shaking his head. Slightly pigeon-toed, he paces back and forth along the thoroughfare.

 

I know I shouldn’t but can’t help but stare. This is an intensely private family moment – albeit played out in a public theatre – and no business of mine. But I’m fascinated. Shaun is batting for Australia which makes him public property, but first of all he’s a son and brother. As he moves achingly through two rain delays towards three figures, his father is being tortured.

 

Swampy looks like a doer. A protector who wants to guide and help his son, but can’t. One hundred metres away in the middle of a Test match, Shaun is on his own.

 

I wonder if Shaun realises his father’s pain. Does any child fully understand what a parent goes through everyday to put food on the table, shelter them from life’s troubles, and watch on helplessly as they break out on their own to ride life’s waves? I know I didn’t when I was young. I do now.

 

I think of how I will cope when Eloise grows and starts forging her way, winning and losing as she goes. No good, I bet. Fighting the urge to be a helicopter parent is ever present. You want to catch them every time they fall, but know you can’t. Nor should. How else do humans learn, but through experience? Bloody hell, I nearly blubbered at her two year old ballet concert before Christmas. If she becomes a champion sportswoman (don’t like her chances with my genes), I won’t be able to watch. I’ll go for a walk and mutter to myself like Swampy.

 

I recall the red-faced look of embarrassment on my own father’s face when I received my marching orders for a head high tackle during a junior footy match. We were in Terang that day, where Joe grew up, and he was surrounded by his mates and I copped a well-deserved serve all the way home in the car. I can still feel the shame.

 

Shaun’s a more attractive, neater batsman than his dour, gritty father. His dad batted right-handed; he’s a lefty. Shaun’s a white shirt corporate man, while Geoff dug trenches.

 

Today, Shaun’s batting within himself, giving the impression he could increase the scoring rate if needed. But in his 32nd year, with only 11 Tests and an average in the mid-30s to his name, it’s possibly now or never. Selectors have shown faith and it’s only right he repays. Plus, Shaun and Harro are under instruction to soak up the overs.

 

Approaching Lunch, the sun appears and the instruction arrives to hurry it up before a declaration. Shaun whacks Ashwin, the off-spinner, around and moves into the 90s. Dhoni brings the field in. Swampy paces and mutters again.

 

He walks past and Flynny offers a word of encouragement.

 

‘Fuck’, cracks from the side of Swampy’s mouth.

 

I slap him lightly on his broad shoulder and immediately feel like an idiot for doing so. This isn’t my moment; stay the hell out of it.

 

With Shaun on 99, the ring of Indian fielders closes in. He tries to push a few balls through the infield but can’t penetrate. This is too much for Swampy and needing to be alone in his torment, disappears behind a grandstand pillar.

 

Unable to let this go, Flynny and I go looking for Swampy between balls. It’s rude, we know, but can’t resist. We keep our distance.

 

Suddenly, Shaun’s composure is lost. He pushes to short mid-off and calls Harro through. Kohli, the hero and villain of this series, gathers and throws the stumps downs as Shaun dives for the crease. The umpire goes upstairs but everyone knows. The Indians celebrate and Shaun trudges off, head down.

 

Swampy stares into space.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Great insight , Andrew to a so private family moment in some ways , yet totally public in others .in will surprise most that , Geoff Marsh hit one of the biggest sixes I have ever seen with a pull shot off Simon Tait ( yes related ) in a state under 23 game it went over the old , Vicyor Richardson gates 1 bounce on to , Kimg William St . I nought this up with him out the back during the , Adelaide test match and got a wry grin with the comment geez you got a long memory pal , a very modest bloke .
    Andrew with you having spent the test match with , PJF while the game might have ended in a draw the winner would have been the bar thanks , Andrew

  2. Dave Brown says

    Good work, Andrew. Any parent at any stage can probably relate. Helping a child to learn to deal with failure is bloody difficult – you can’t help but be on the ride with them. Other side of that coin, I was on a tennis court the other day and on the neighbouring court a father was ripping into his clearly very talented son. Made me feel sick to the stomach and if that’s the price of success I will be happy if my kids play 5th division tiddly winks.

  3. Patrick Skene says

    Wonderful read Andrew.
    We often forget that before they are international stars they are brothers, sons and grandsons.
    Thanks.

  4. Andrew Starkie says

    Malcolm, I can imagine Swampy responding in that way. Surprisingly, his ODI average is a hell of a lot higher than his Test average. May have scored more tons as well. I didn’t have a beer for the Test – Xmas cleaned me out – but Flynny and Dom handed a bit over the bar, that’s for sure.

    Dave, there’s one thing as bad a disinterested parent, one who pushes too hard. it’s a balancing act, I suppose.

    Patrick, that’s what i took most from the experience. We saw his mum and grandfather later.

  5. you sure they are related Rulebook?

  6. Malcolm Ashwood says

    I think so Crio but not sure re exactly in what way ( cousins I think could be wrong )

  7. Peter Flynn says

    The Marsh family has a stalking intervention order out against Old Mucker Starkie and moi.

    You captured the drama really well Starks.

    Pity about the ultra-conservative declaration.

    Maybe the Aussies only had the energy to mouth off ridiculously for 66 overs.

    P Flynn

  8. What declaration Flynny? It appeared to be an unprecedented call from the coach’s box! The Aussies, I’m relieved you’ve noted, were disgracefully behaved in the afternoon. Warner was embarrassing. Haddin and Johnson should know better. Smith appeared compromised as skipper. I was barracking the draw.

  9. Shane Lawson says

    great read Andrew!

  10. Luke Reynolds says

    Great work Andrew. Can totally understand you not being able to look away from Swampy. SE Marsh is certainly on his last chance. His debut ton in Sri Lanka was such a composed, confident innings that a big career seemed assured. Hope he still can achieve this.
    GR Marsh 4 x Test tons, 9 x ODI tons.

  11. Andrew Starkie says

    Wouldn’t stand up in court, Flynny.

    Luke, did he and tubby bat all day during the ashes in 89?

  12. Love it, AS.
    G Marsh was my childhood favourite.
    And that’s a wonderful piece of observational writing.

    Yes he did bat through Day 1 at Trent Bridge in 1989 with Tubby Taylor.
    It was the 5th Test and unheralded Australia were up 3-0.
    From Mike Selvey of the Guradian: “When the last ball of the day was bowled by Eddie Hemmings bang on the dot of six o’clock, they were still at it. Taylor blocked it studiously, turned smartly on his heel and marched towards the pavilion, joined at the trot by Marsh. They shook hands and disappeared to a standing ovation.
    Small wonder: Marsh had made 125, Taylor 141, highest Test scores for both, and in the process had accrued the little matter of 301 runs for the first wicket, with the prospect of more to come today.”
    More at: http://www.theguardian.com/sport/1989/aug/11/ashes.cricket

  13. Andrew,
    A great read. And I envy you:
    high on my bucket list is to spend a day at the cricket with old mate PJF!

  14. Best to start a strict training regime soon Smoke.

  15. Very well written Andrew. Just dropped of my eldest son today for his first day at Primary School (starts early in Singapore!) and I am feeling a little bit like Geoff Marsh at the moment – wish I could be out in the middle with him helping him out.

    Geoff was one of my favourites too and I remember him hitting a cracking six back around 90/91 when the Southerm Stand was under construction. It was very low and hard and I think still climbing when it went into the construction site. Simon O’Donnell turned it on that day too and Pickett and I made quite possibly the worst sign ever shown at the cricket.

  16. Andrew Starkie says

    E – a good toss to win. I assume AB won it?

    Smoke – it was an experience; very funny

    DJ – hang in there; all in a parent’s journey

  17. Andrew Starkie says

    AB won the toss;

    Amazing schedule on that tour. Upteen tour and warm-up games; 6 tests.

    Martin Moxon opened for England!

  18. Terry Towelling says

    I am a terrible watcher of my own flesh and blood. When my son goes into bat at 3 or 4 down, I drift away from the camp and go way the hell over to the other side of the ground and watch his dig all alone. If his mum lobs at the ground while he is batting, she will come and sit with me. My problem is that, aside from being incredibly nervous and keen for the kid to do well, I cannot stand listening to the other parents and (especially) the other kids talking about my son’s batting.

    Back when I was a young cricketer, we were told to sit down, shut up and watch when our mates were batting. It was hard enough to concentrate in the middle without a bunch of unsolicited advice floating in from the boundary. These days, every kid is his own Geoff Lawson or Chappelli, keeping up a running commentary on the action and shouting advice. There’ll be kids sitting there behind the fence who have been rissoled for a globe, screeching imprecations at a kid out in the middle who has made a chanceless 40. The number of kids that I’ve seen run out because they are obeying an instruction to run not from their own batting partner but from some spud sipping on a Gatorade 100 yards away….

    So anyway, I make myself scarce, the better to prevent myself overhearing a chance remark on the inadequacy of my boy’s cover drive. Lovely piece.

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