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Mitchell Marsh's all important Test

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Mitchell_Marsh_Australia_CricketShane Watson was Australia's best Test all-rounder during his time with the team, largely because the team did not have any other competitive options. In Australian conditions that aid bounce and pace, a fast bowling all-rounder is far more in demand than the likes of Glenn Maxwell, who can bowl off-spin apart from being a proper batsman.

Australia is in a similar situation right now with Mitchell Marsh. The pace bowling all-rounder from Western Australia has been in and out of the Test side ever since he made his debut in 2014. Despite the fact that Marsh has the worst average (19.70) of any No. 6 batsman who has scored at least 450 runs, he has time and again made his way back into the Australian Test squad.

 

After Australia's win in Adelaide, Marsh was named as Chadd Sayers' replacement for the Perth Test. That decision was not received very positively by fans and critics. A few months earlier, Marsh touched a new low in his Test career: during the India tour, he played two Tests and ended with humiliating scores of 4, 31, 0 and 13. He has batted 25 times at No. 6 and scored 473 runs at an average of 19.7. He has made just one half century (53) and registered four ducks.

 

Eight months later, when the same batsman was added to the Australian squad for the crucial Ashes series, it was sure to create a hullabaloo in the cricket fraternity. There have been questions raised regarding Marsh's selection ahead of the Sheffield Shield's current top-scorer Glenn Maxwell. Had it been Melbourne or Sydney, Maxwell could have been considered. However, an extra fast bowler in the side will give Australia an edge on the fast and bouncy pitch in Perth.

His failure with the bat aside, Marsh has barely contributed with the ball in his recent Tests. As Perth is his home ground, he should be more familiar with the conditions. Considering he has been given an nth recall to the Test side, let us throw some light on his performances at the WACA for Australia: in his last two Tests there, he had just three wickets to his name - two wickets vs. South Africa in 2016 and one wicket vs. New Zealand in 2015.

Marsh was sent back during the India tour because of a lingering shoulder injury that required surgery. He hasn't played for Australia since. As he worked on rehabilitation following his surgery, he used the time not bowling to improve his batting technique. Apparently, he has worked on his defensive skills in order to stay at the crease for the longer hours required in Test cricket.   

 

Ahead of the 2017-18 domestic season, Marsh was named the captain of Western Australia (WA) and things have gone his way so far. Along with older brother Shaun, he blasted his side to victory in the JLT One-Day Cup title and managed to carry the purple patch of his form into the Shield season as well. In his past six first class innings, the 26-year-old has scores of 95, 28, 141, 11, 43 and an unbeaten 38. He is WA's second-highest run-getter behind Test opener Cameron Bancroft. He even began to bowl after a long break and picked up two wickets in Western Australia's match against Queensland last month.

 

Now that Australia's No. 5 batsman Peter Handscomb has been out of runs in the first two Ashes Tests, Australia will be desperate to replace him. If they want to include both an extra pacer and a replacement for Handscomb, they are left with no choice but to go for a fast bowling all-rounder. Had Hilton Cartwright proved himself in the Shield matches, Australia could have the luxury to choose between the two Western Australia all-rounders. Sadly, Cartwright averages 21.60 with the bat from five first-class matches in the 2017-18 season, compared to Marsh's 44.66 in as many games.

If Marsh walks in with his brother Shaun in the WACA, their home ground, on Wednesday, the junior Marsh will have a massive task ahead of him. He will be most under pressure when compared to the rest of the batting lineup. If Handscomb will be dropped, Shaun will be promoted to No. 5 and Mitchell will have to deal with his nightmare once again at No. 6.

The least Mitchell Marsh can do is prove his critics wrong, for once. Otherwise, it will look more and more likely that his selection was based on a lack of options for Australia. It looks like just a matter of time before promising Test candidates like Marcus Stonis and Cartwright will close the Mitchell Marsh chapter forever.

 

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