So Mitch Marsh is back in the Australian Test team.
Is anyone really surprised?
Unfortunately, not really.
Despite Marsh playing five dud Tests in a row, Cricket Australia were bending over backwards to help him out.
He was “released” from the ODI side to get in extra rounds of Sheffield Shield (a courtesy not extended to, say, Glenn Maxwell and Marcus Stoinis).
He was included in the initial squad, and no specialist batsmen were added to said squad after the second Test despite Peter Handscomb’s failures, leaving Marsh as the only option to replace him.
And so Mitch is back, as undeserving as ever. The worst performing number six in Australia’s history has been given yet another chance to fail.
And he will fail, eventually.
It’s statistically inevitable – his first class debut was back in 2009 and his batting average is 31.93.
He managed to string together four decent Tests in a row in 2017-18, and maybe he’ll manage a few this time around, but he’ll be found out in the end, like he was the first time he was in the team.
And the second. And the third.
And it won’t matter because his fans – I call them the Marshettes – are so powerful and influential and never seem to run out of excuses as to why Marsh underperforms.
For ease of reference, I thought I’d list my ten favourites.
1) “He just needs time”
We may as well get this over and done with – the main pro-Mitch argument from the Marshettes is that this 27-year-old, who has been playing first class cricket since 2009 and Test cricket since 2014, and has 30 Tests under his belt, “just needs time” to develop.
It was used only a few weeks ago by Michael Vaughan, who said if Marsh is “going to be around the Test match team for a few years he needs a run in the side… (He) is certainly worth persisting with and I think the only way he’ll get better and be a real prominent member of the Test team is to play a run of games.”
Another journalist wrote two months ago that Mitch “has his best cricket ahead of him.”
I repeat, this is after Marsh has played 30 Tests.
That’s more than Bill Ponsford.
More than Bill O’Reilly.
And it’s more than any of the other, better, options Australia could play at number six instead of Handscomb – Glenn Maxwell, Jake Lehmann, George Bailey, Callum Ferguson, Cameron White, Kurtis Patterson, Daniel Hughes.
Heck, I’d even have Marnus Labuschagne back.
Why don’t we give them some of this time we waste on Mitch Marsh?
One thing Marsh has, in spades, is “potential”.
Marsh was given a rookie deal at Western Australia in 2008 and the captaincy of Australia’s U-19 side in 2010.
He made his international debut in 2011, the year he made his initial first class century.
In 2012, Shane Warne spoke up Mitch’s prospects saying; “if we don’t rush him, we’re patient with him, encourage him, let his body develop and start to get a bit more experience, then I think he’s going to be a real superstar in cricket.”
Mitchell Marsh has always promised so much – when is he meant to actually be good?
Dave Warner and Mitchell Marsh made their debut first class centuries in the same game in 2011.
Since then, Marsh has made 10 first class centuries from 93 games and averages 32.
Warner has made 28 from 102 games and averages 48.
When Mitch Marsh made his Test debut in 2014, his first-class average with the bat was 28.
Now, it’s a shade under 32. Roll on the 2027 Ashes, I say! The Poms won’t be able to stop him. If only he’s given time…
You know what I think?
It’s been a decade. We know what sort of player Mitch Marsh is at first class level. A bits and pieces player. An Ian Brayshaw-Phil Carlson-Trevor Laughlin type.
Which is fine at Sheffield Shield level, and might even work at Test level if he was teamed with another similar type of player at eight like England have with Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes.
Play him at six and say Jake Wildermuth at eight. That might work – if it’s worth dropping one of our star bowlers.
But instead the Marshettes shut their eyes and pretend he’s Steve Waugh or Keith Miller.
Remember when Australia used to get big totals? Happened at home when Steve Smith and Dave Warner were firing a few seasons back – also you had golden periods of form for Joe Burns and Adam Voges.
Never happened for Mitchell, but the Marshettes were keen to point out it wasn’t easy to score runs when you went out at 4-299.
“I didn’t get a lot of opportunity because the top five were making a hell of a lot of runs and I just kept working hard,” Marsh said in 2015.
“You’re under pressure for runs, certainly at this level, you think about a lot of things. When you haven’t spent a lot of time in the middle things just don’t come naturally and you don’t think as clearly as you do when you’re in form.”
To be fair, the Marshettes are unlikely to use that excuse this summer. Our selection policy of preferring batsmen who average in the low to mid 30s over those who average around 40 will see to that.
Everyone agrees that at the moment Australia’s bowling is strong and batting is weak.
So what have we done?
Picked a man who strengthens the bowling and weakens the batting.
Whenever there’s been an Aussie collapse you can normally guarantee Mitch Marsh will be right in the thick of it – especially overseas.
His poor form with the bat at contributed to defeats in the UAE in 2014, England in 2015, Sri Lanka in 2016, India in 2017, South Africa and the UAE again 2018.
To be fair, he’s had his moments – his second Test in UAE 2014 and the first Test in South Africa in 2018.
To be fair also, other batsmen did badly as well – something the Marshettes never tire in pointing out.
Marsh wasn’t present when Australia were dismissed for 60 at Trent Bridge in 2015 – leading to Darren Lehmann blaming the defeat on Australia not playing Mitch Marsh!
When you need a rearguard rescue mission or counter attack, Mitch Marsh has managed that at times.
In, arguably, four of his 30 Test matches.
Don’t you need more from that from a number six?
A decent number six would have saved us in that first Test in Sri Lanka in 2016 and the second Test in India in 2017 especially.
This seems to terrify some cricket journalists more than anything else – more than a batting collapse, more than a defeat. The thought that four bowlers might have to bowl a lot of overs! Argh! Run for the hills!
It’s the spare tire theory of Australian cricket – you need that extra bowler or it might be really hard for the bowlers and what will you do if one of them breaks down?
And absolutely it did happen, once. The third Test against New Zealand in 2015-16, when Mitchell Starc fell injured and Marsh’s 3-59 in the second innings helped Australia win a narrow game.
There you go.
I mean, a proper number six might have scored more runs in Australia’s innings than Marsh’s double of four and 28, putting the game well beyond New Zealand’s reach.
But he did contribute in that one.
I guess he did take 4-61 against a West Indies side chasing down 460.
And he took three wickets when Peter Siddle fell injured in a Test in Wellington. That was while New Zealand were following on – so it was hardly crisis time, but it does happen.
So yep, there’s that.
But Mitch Marsh’s bowling didn’t stop us being slaughtered in the UAE twice. The first time, in 2014, was the worst bowling performance in Australia’s history.
It didn’t help in England in 2015.
Or against New Zealand once at home.
Or in Sri Lanka in 2016.
Or against South Africa at home.
Or even by England in the Boxing Day Test at home.
His bowling is handy, absolutely.
Does it compensate for his second-rate batting, which has cost us a bunch of Tests?
And couldn’t Travis Head be used to bowl a few overs? Do spinners not count?
Not to the Marshettes.
The pattern is always the same – a bunch of failures, he works on his technique, gets a few big scores then goes back to failing.
Actually sometimes that’s not true – sometimes he doesn’t even get the big scores.
Stay tuned for more improvements coming up.
I like this one because it’s a newer excuse – his failure at the Big Bash the other night was apparently caused by getting excited.
So, come the Boxing Day Test, don’t get too excited, Mitch!
People have been acclaiming Mitch Marsh as a potential Australian captain before he even played a Test – Michael Clarke did it.
Personally, I think Clarke wanted Marsh to be a success so he could boot Shane Watson out of the team.
I’ve got no proof of that, it’s just a conspiracy theory, but Marsh payed a lot of Tests under Clarke’s watch that his form didn’t justify and, in the end, Watson was dropped for Marsh in 2015.
When Smith was banned, some even suggested he take over as national captain then and there, despite coming off three dud Tests in a row in South Africa.
He didn’t get the job but he was awarded the vice captaincy, due to a combination of his popularity, lineage and humility.
This, despite the fact he was still prone to calling the opposition a c***.
So, let’s persist with him because it’s good to have potential leaders in the team, right?
Mind you, the side does have a few state captains already in Travis Head and Usman Khawaja.
Is there some reason bowlers can’t captain?
Oh yeah, it’s too hard for them – you need the calm, rational thinking of a Steve Smith, a Cam Bancroft or a Dave Warner.
Mind you, George Bailey and Cameron White have superior actual leadership records (as opposed to potential) and haven’t been given one fifth the opportunities at Test level as Mitch Marsh.
If they had been, I think sandpapergate never would have happened.
Before anyone jumps on me, to be clear; I am not blaming Mitch Marsh for that.
But I am blaming the general level of immaturity that permeated the Australian set up under Darren Lehmann at the time, in part because experienced players were never given much of a run compared to callow youths.
But anyway. Go Captain Mitch.
Because if Tim Paine ever breaks a pinky do you honestly think Langer will push for Josh Hazlewood over Marsh?
Mitch Marsh has been a handy bowler at Test level – 35 wickets from 30 Tests is solid, without ever threatening to get up there in the Andy Flintoff category.
Marcus North, Simon Katich and Michael Clarke won as many Test matches with the ball as Mitch Marsh.
But it’s not his fault, according to Ryan Harris – he just hasn’t been bowled enough.
I like this kind of excuse because it’s bowling related.
I mean, where would we have been in the UAE in 2018 if not for his 0-38 and 2-60?
The Marshettes tend to lump criticism of Mitchell as coming from “social media”, thereby infantilising it.
You know, social media, that land where trolls and keyboard warriors live.
It’s true that Mitch Marsh generally has an easier ride from establishment cricket journalists and the ex-player mafia – I think because they like his dad, he is a nice bloke and they want him to do well.
It doesn’t mean they’re right and “social media” are wrong.
I’m sure Mitch Marsh is a nice bloke (though the way everyone brings that up I sometimes can’t help wondering, what are the others in the team like?)
He clearly has talent.
ODI cricket, fine.
I feel bad that he reads nasty things about himself on Facebook.
I just know of no Australian player in Test match history who, after ten years of first class cricket, who averaged 32 with the bat and became a Test class top six batsman.
A few English cricketers did – notably Tony Greig.
But no Australians, unless there’s someone I’ve forgotten)
There’s no shame in Mitch’s numbers.
He’s a good solid bits and pieces all rounder who’s never going to be anything more and you can blame “social media” all you want but that is not going to change.
Now, these haven’t been the only excuses used for Mitch Marsh’s lack of performance at Test level.
People have argued that he should bat at seven rather than six, or four rather than six.
He’s had injuries, and been banned due to drinking.
The crowd has been too loud, he’s had gastro, he’s forgotten to watch the ball, he’s had to play too many different formats, Test cricket has a lot of pressure and he hasn’t been captain yet.
That’s ten more excuses right there – making it a nice 20.
I’m sure some, if not all, of these will be trotted out this summer.
The Mitch Marsh story is unique in Australian cricket.
I can think of no other player who, through a combination of reasons (looks, potential, lineage, good bloke-ness, an ability to take the odd crucial wicket, the knack of getting centuries just as a team is being picked) has been picked for over 30 Tests in complete defiance of his first class record.
Anyway, I wish him luck in the Boxing Day Test.
He won’t need it though because he’s judged to a lower standard than pretty much every other cricketer in this country.
And if that sounds mean, well I’m about to watch the 31st Test of a player who shouldn’t have played one, and I think I’m allowed to be frustrated by it.
Australia just let India back into the series, big time.