It’s late on day four of the Oval Test. Mitchell Marsh is in the midst of a bludgeoning rear-guard as Australia recover from a precarious 5/100 chasing England’s 257 to reclaim the urn.
It is a total that has been made possible by Marsh’s 5/33 – a superb display of reverse-swing bowling to unsettle the Poms from a comfortable position. Marsh thrashes Ben Stokes to the cover boundary to move to 103*, he salutes the crowd knowing the job isn’t quite down, but Australia are now firm favourites and are on the cusp of reclaiming the Ashes.
This is what Marsh could be. This is what Marsh should be. This is what Marsh is far from.
In a parallel universe, that’s text from the 2019 Ashes series in England. A universe where Marsh is the player that evolved from a talented youngster. A player that is delivering on the promise illustrated at the 2010 under-19s World Cup, where he captained Australia.
A player that is actually living up to the lofty Jacques Kallis comparisons. Back in our universe, Marsh isn’t delivering on the hype that surrounded him coming through the junior ranks. Far from it. He has, however, played 21 Tests. Fortuitously, he has been given a lengthy run in the team, without ever really justifying his place.
Now, having been sent home from India with a shoulder injury, it’s likely he won’t walk straight back into the Test team when he recovers, a result of his struggles at the crease.
Marsh has time on his side and Australia can’t give up on him just yet, but something’s got to give if he’s to realise his potential and regain his place in the Test team. Here’s how he can turn things around.
Step 1 – Review his technique
Marsh is a powerful batsman and a big hitter, but that instinct to go hard is his downfall in defence. When Marsh was dropped from the Test side this summer he was instructed to tighten up his defensive technique.
The same shoulder injury that resulted in him being flown home from India scuppered those plans, and then Marsh was inexplicably reinstalled into the Test team despite never actually addressing those same flaws. Over the off-season Marsh needs to work on defending with soft hands, like Chris Rogers so excellently did.
Step 2 – Learn to rotate the strike
Marsh suffers from one of Shane Watson’s biggest problems – an inability to rotate the strike. Marsh largely relies on boundaries as his source of runs, but the art of good batting lies in generating ones and twos. By rotating the strike, you upset the bowler’s rhythm. It disrupts bowling plans and keeps the runs flowing, putting scoreboard pressure back on the fielding team.
In Test cricket, 56 per cent of Marsh’s runs have come in boundaries. Comparatively, the modern era’s best batsmen boast a lower percentage; Steven Smith (48 per cent), Virat Kohli (47 per cent), Kane Williamson (44 per cent) and Joe Root (46 per cent).
Step 3 – Forget the IPL
It’s easy for an armchair critic to ask a cricketer to forgo hundreds of thousands of dollars but realistically it’s the best thing Marsh can do for his Test career. By missing the IPL Marsh will be able to put time into his batting and work on his technical flaws with specialist coaches, rather than ignore his weaknesses like a hefty credit card bill.
Step 4 – Go to England
Most of Australia would love to send Marsh to the UK on a one-way ticket with a pat on the bum, but alas, this suggestion is merely for a County contract. Instead of slamming sixes in India, Marsh should spend his Australian winter with an English county playing red ball cricket – the more first class experience he can get the better.
Marsh, like several Australian bats, was badly exposed on seam-friendly English wickets in the 2015 Ashes. A season in the UK would enable him to work on his technique, particularly in conditions where playing with soft hands is so vital.
Marsh has been blessed with opportunities at Test level, opportunities the likes of which Brad Hodge, Martin Love, Tim Paine and Michael Klinger would kill for. Now, the onus is on Marsh to reward the blind faith constantly shown by the selectors with effort and application. He can turn things around but it’s going to take sacrifice and hard work.