The race to replace David Warner as Test opener is now getting wacky with Mitchell Marsh being thrown up as a potential option.
On the same day that Matt Renshaw registered an unbeaten 136 for the Prime Minister’s XI, the person with the second-most important office in the land was polling the electorate about Marsh being promoted to the top of the order.
Pat Cummins said at the Fox Cricket launch on Friday that Marsh could be promoted from left field, from six in the order to opener alongside Usman Khawaja in the post-Warner era after successfully moving up to the top in white-ball cricket.
His ability to “put the pressure back on the opening bowlers, hit them off their lengths” was worth considering, according to Cummins.
“It’s a possibility. You’re open to anything really. I’ve seen him make that shift in white-ball cricket,” the Test skipper said.
“You never say never but he handled No.6 in the Ashes pretty impressively.”
And that last part of Cummins’ comments should be where the debate starts and ends with Marsh.
He’s a middle-order batter in red-ball cricket, not an opener.
It’s not like Marsh would be a walking wicket if he strolled out to the crease alongside Khawaja in the Test arena – he has a solid technique and plays the quick ball as well as most batters in the Australian set-up.
But such a move would quickly put an end to his late-career renaissance at Test level after a four-year gap in games wearing the baggy green cap.
Marsh’s counter-attacking century at Leeds after his recall for the third Ashes clash in July was an unexpected highlight of a Test career which has oscillated wildly since he was first given a chance nearly a decade ago.
The 118 from as many deliveries countered England’s early onslaught after Mark Wood had triggered a top-order collapse. Marsh’s striking of Wood’s thunderbolts in particular went against the grain of his teammates, who were struggling to put willow on leather.
But it should also be remembered that Marsh should have been on his way for 12 but for Joe Root spilling a straightforward chance off slip and the Western Australian followed up his ton with scores of 28, 51, 31 not out, 16 and six as the tourists just clung onto the urn.
Apart from a purple patch against a woefully outclassed England side during the home Ashes series of 2017-18 when Marsh hit two tons in the space of three matches, he has never been able to consistently deliver in the Test arena.
Well before Cameron Green was given a lengthy apprenticeship, Marsh was also handed plenty of chances by the selectors to be a middle-order strokemaker and fifth bowling option.
It didn’t work out earlier in his career and with his bowling waning after years of injury woes, it’s unlikely that Marsh can be a genuine all-rounder for Australia now that he’s north of 32.
His only realistic chance to add a significant number to his 35 Test appearances would be batting at six, bowling short spells when necessary and definitely not at the top of the order.
Marsh’s efforts at the World Cup show that he is capable of taking over from Warner in the white-ball arena as opener.
He and Travis Head would be a lighting left-right combination in both limited overs formats – similar to Mark Waugh and Adam Gilchrist a generation ago, two similar players who worked well when the ball was new in white-ball cricket but were far more effective in the middle order in Tests.
Cummins seemed less enthusiastic about Marnus Labuschagne, another name that has been floated to replace Warner, vacating the No.3 spot.
Which should mean Warner’s replacement will come from a specialist opener in Renshaw or Cameron Bancroft, perhaps Marcus Harris.
With Green on the outer after appearing to spread himself too thin across the three versions and the IPL, Marsh has a golden opportunity to cement the No.6 spot this summer with three Tests against Pakistan, starting next week on his home turf in Perth, and two more against the Windies.
If recent history is any guide, he is likely to be coming in to face a tiring attack with plenty of runs already on the board.