The Australian selectors have once again turned to Mitch Marsh for another opportunity at Test level for the fifth Ashes Test at The Oval.
And what a surprise, the armchair experts have all jumped on for their usual criticism of Marsh and the selectors. Hardly surprising I suppose, as it is easy to take shots without looking at the big picture.
The selectors have said that Marsh’s selection is due to the conditions expected at The Oval. They want an extra bowling option so our bowlers are not worked into the dirt.
Travis Head makes way for Marsh, which you could argue is a tough call but it was probably only ever going to be between Head and Wade to be dropped. Neither have set the tour on fire but I can see why the selectors would give Wade one more shot given his age. I would suggest that a failure here for Wade though would almost rule him out of future Test teams.
On that basis, there are only two all-rounder options in the squad – Mitch Marsh and Michael Neser. Whilst Neser has taken more wickets in the tour games than Marsh – 11 compared to nine – Neser has basically only had one innings of batting in which he scored one while Marsh has scored 252 runs at 84 if you discount the Australian intra-country match.
As for the first class records, a similar outcome emerges for both. The 29 year old Neser has only played 47 first class matches and is averaging 26.3 with the bat and 27.8 with the ball, while the 28 year old Marsh has 100 first class matches and is averaging 31.9 with both the bat and ball. These numbers would therefore lean towards Marsh as the obvious choice.
It goes without saying that Mitch Marsh has been given plenty of opportunities – and some would argue too many.
Marsh has played 31 Test matches since his debut on 22nd October 2014 and has totalled 1219 runs with a less than impressive 25.4 run average with the bat and totals 35 wickets at an average of 43.9 with the ball, which – at Test level – doesn’t make for great reading.
That is of course unless you start to make some comparisons to another batting all-rounder that debuted for Australia on Boxing Day 1985 – the one and only Stephen Rodger Waugh. Surely there’s no comparison, right? Interestingly, they’re not that far apart. Let’s look at Steve Waugh’s record in his first 31 Test matches.
Steve Waugh totalled 1586 runs at an average of 40.7 with the bat and 42 wickets at an average of 42.5 with the ball. On the surface Mitch Marsh compares favourably with the ball, however doesn’t come close to the batting average of Steve Waugh. But when you look a bit deeper, the comparison gets a bit more interesting.
Steve Waugh played 17 Test matches in Australia and 14 away. Of the 14 away matches, six were played on the sub-continent.
Steve Waugh’s Test batting averages
Home: 17 Tests, 27 innings, two not outs – 863 runs, averaging 34.5
Away: 14 Tests, 20 innings, six not outs – 723 runs, averaging 51.6
Sub-continent: six Tests, nine innings, three not outs – 151 runs, averaging 25.2
Waugh’s away record was boosted by his first trip to England in 1989 where he scored 485 runs in the first five Test matches of that series. If you remove his runs scored in those five Test matches the picture changes dramatically. The overall batting average drops to 30.6 and the away record drops to 21.6.
Now let’s take a look at Marsh’s averages.
Mitch Marsh’s Test batting averages
Home: 13 Tests, 20 innings, four not outs – 572 runs, averaging 35.8
Away: 18 Tests, 33 innings, one not out – 647 runs, averaging 20.2
Sub-continent: nine Tests, 18 innings – 405 runs, averaging 22.5
The above comparison shows Marsh’s home record is slightly better than Waugh’s – and after taking out the 1989 Ashes series, the away record is not dissimilar.
The point of the exercise is not to say that Mitch Marsh is as good as Steve Waugh or will ever be as good as Steve Waugh, but his record is not as bad as it may seem if you note that Marsh has had to play more Tests away from home than Steve Waugh did over their first 31 Test matches.
Steve Waugh was given plenty of opportunity to succeed – which he most certainly did. Maybe Mitch Marsh should be afforded the same opportunities – and who knows where it would take him.