Mention the words “team culture” to newly appointed Australian test cricket vice-captain Mitchell Marsh and you can almost hear a groan.
After the ball-tampering and sledging controversies of Australia’s tour to South Africa earlier in the year, which led to the suspensions of captain Steve Smith, vice-captain David Warner and batsmen Cameron Bancroft, as well as the resignation of coach Darren Lehmann, you can imagine said “team culture” has been a big topic in the international media.
The appointment of new captain Tim Paine, vice captains Marsh and Josh Hazlewood and new coach Justin Langer is directly aimed at addressing that culture and moving it in a more positive direction.
So Marsh is fully expecting the question coming his way and practiced at replacing the silent groan with a toothy grin and letting it pass through to the keeper’s gloves.
“Look I think right now we’ve got a great bunch of people here,” he tells Sport360, smile firmly in place. “A great bunch of young guys who are striving to get better everyday.”
“We want to work hard and we want to live by certain values as Australian cricketers and make Australians proud.
“I think if we do that the word ‘culture’ hopefully won’t be mentioned as much.”
The new-look Australian team, currently in the UAE to play a two Test series against Pakistan starting in Dubai on October 7, contains a number of players with a clean slate – young and not so young – untainted by former controversies: Aaron Finch, Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne, Michael Neser, Brendan Doggett, Matthew Renshaw and Jon Holland.
Of those Finch and Head look certain to make their Test debuts at Dubai International Cricket Stadium while Neser and Labuschagne could bring the number of debutants to four.
Renshaw at the moment looks the only player out of the running after being struck in the helmet with a sickening blow while fielding at short leg in the four day warm up match against Pakistan A at the ICC Academy.
“Obviously never nice to see someone get hit in the head,” said Marsh during the match. “But from what I’ve heard from the doctor he’s getting better and better, he seems in good spirits now.
“It’s obviously a bit of a shock to see someone go down like that but from all reports he’s all good now.”
Marsh is still settling in to his role as vice-captain but excited to be leading such a new crop of future stars.
“Oh it’s a huge honour,” he said of his role. “When I was originally told I was pretty stoked and it probably took 24 hours for me to sit down and think.
“It’s a real achievement but it’s just the start for me as a leader in this team and I’ve said a few times now that I don’t necessarily need a ‘VC’ next to my name to be a leader around this team.
“So I’m really excited about what we can all achieve as a pretty young group and young leaders.”
One player Marsh is very excited at working with is Head who scored a brisk 90 not out in the warm up match which finished on Tuesday.
“He’s ready for test cricket,” said Marsh of Head. “He’s in really good form. He looks in really good touch.
“He’s proven over the last couple of years that he can score big runs for South Australia, so he’s ready to go.
“He’s a great guy, a great young leader as well so if he gets this opportunity I think it will be really special for him.”
Credit must go to Cricket Australia who have bucked the trend of players playing too much cricket in these days of ODI, T20 and T10 – and made sure the squad for this tour was well rested and well prepared, including a short tour of India by Australia A which Marsh went on.
“It was huge for me (the India tour),” explained Marsh.
“Obviously having five months off, I didn’t have much cricket under my belt so I was really excited to get over to India.
“You have four months training in the gym and in the nets, it was nice to get out in the middle. I felt really ready coming here which was really important.”
Finch agrees the side is well prepared coming into this series.
“Obviously a lot of boys are coming off the Indian A series which was a great opportunity for them,” said the experienced white ball bat said during the practice game. “And a lot of us coming off some County cricket and a few boys have had their feet up for a while really getting fit and preparing for this series.”
“It’s just been a great build up and these four days of cricket have been great for us as well.”
The 30-year-old also faced up to the dreaded “culture” question
“I think any time when you have a bit of a turnover of players and turnover of particularly a head coach you’re always going to have a few different ideas and a few different theories,” said Finch.
“It’s just been great to get over early and train really hard and start to acclimatise.”
Both Marsh and Finch are also full of praise for Langer.
“Outstanding,” said Finch of working with the new coach. “He was the batting coach when I first started for Australia, obviously played a lot against him when he was coach of Western Australia.
“Now working with him he’s been brilliant – to have the ODI series in England, the T20 series in Zimbabwe, the tri-series with Pakistan and Zimbabwe, and now (here) it’s been great fun.
“Obviously his work ethic,” Finch continued when asked about Langer’s qualities. “His expectations on demanding excellence on and off the field. I’m not saying we didn’t have that but it’s always front and centre.”
Under Langer’s guidance both batsmen have toned down their more aggressive tendencies on the slower UAE pitches.
It paid dividends in the tour match with Finch notching up a patient 54 and Marsh an impressive 162.
“The conditions dictate that as well (being less aggressive)”, adds Marsh.
“It was a pretty hard wicket to score in front of the wicket so you had to be very patient and that was my game plan to be really patient, play every ball on its merit.
“Softening the hands. It’s just practice, playing the ball later and being really strong on my defence.
“Took me a whole day to get a 100, so be it. It was really nice to be able to spend so much time out there.”
So for now its full steam ahead into a bold new era of Australian cricket and certainly from the evidence of the tour match (against an admittedly weak Pakistan A line up) it seems to be on course.
But the real test will be to see how these very green Baggy Greens hold up in the unforgiving cauldron of Test cricket.
Know more about Sport360 Application