Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Shaun Marsh’s moment

Shaun Marsh, in One Day colours
Nobody thought he should be there. He almost wasn’t. Shaun Marsh has had the peculiar distinction of being picked for this tour twice. Once he was called up to the initial tour party, before having to pull out through injury, then about a week later called up as an injury replacement for Shane Watson.

Marsh was first replaced by Phillip Hughes, but on his return to the squad he immediately leapfrogged him, and given that, as Daniel Brettig put it, “The tour selectors Darren Lehmann and Inverarity have been unable to resist Marsh's flowing form in the nets,” he was a shoo in for the first Test.

After both of the openers were dismissed early, Marsh had to settle in against the world’s best bowling attack with a fresh new ball, as his captain hid below him, again reluctant to bat at four.

Early on he looked good, as he always does. An inside edge down to fine leg for four to take him to six caused brief concern, but otherwise, he seemed to be getting in. One cover drive against Morkel looked particularly classy, but a scorching cut was dropped by Hashim Amla at gully. At that point he had 12 to his name.

Going from 16 to 20 with another fine cut shot, Marsh managed more runs than in an entire series when he last wore the baggy green two years ago. He wasn’t scoring particularly quickly; the flowing cover drives and cuts always look good, but turning the strike over can a problem.

The short ball caused a few problems, especially from Morkel. several pulls inside edged down into a painful area. But Marsh kept fighting. This was the opposite of the fluent, but flighty player Marsh has been stereotyped as being. Throughout the day, he kept leaving the ball, a few fours, some nuggety singles; Marsh was building an innings.

Around the 40th over, a couple of pinched singles off the last balls of overs kept Smith on strike for three consecutive overs. Marsh responded to 18 balls without any strike by demonstrating the IPL Marsh, skipping down the wicket and easing the unthreatening Robin Peterson over the top for a one bounce four. He followed that with a calm single, tucked into the leg side. Colour me impressed. Marsh was in.

At that point, with the big guns out of the attack, he calmly and quickly accumulated. A beautifully timed and placed clip through the leg side took him to 46, though his fifty came up with a gloved pull down the leg side, he fully deserved it. At that point his strike rate was up above 50, despite at one point having been well below forty. He eased into the game, but by that point he was chugging along nicely.

After tea, he continued the accumulation, a single came off the first ball of the session, and the singles continued to flow, with the occasional silky-smooth drive or cut for four. A couple of half-chances went begging, to Morkel at fine leg, nearly run out going for a third on his dodgy calf, then an edge short of slip on 96. Good running for a two, plus a single to square leg later, and Son of Swampy was on 99. Duminy was rolling his arm over at the other end, Marsh must have been licking his lips. It only took a couple of balls into the next over for Marsh to seize the chance and tuck a single down to long leg for his second Test hundred.

All this despite seeming to be struggling with an injury to his calf, Marsh celebrated then settled down to extend his innings to the end of the day and 122 not out.

Before we get too high on Marsh, it’s time to remind ourselves that he’s done this before. On Test debut against Sri Lanka, he hit a brilliant 141, before adding 81 in the next Test. In his first four Test innings he had 284 runs at 71, in the next seven he scored 17 at 2.43.

All the talk about Marsh before the series began was about injuries, and the inexplicable faith the selectors have in him. The question is now, can he build on this? Will he be a Marcus Trescothick, someone picked on a hunch, who turned out to take well to Test cricket? Or will he do what he’s done the rest of his career: start with style, then fail to score the consistent runs his talent suggests he can.

SB Tang has written well on Australian cricket’s fixation on Marsh as the batsman has underachieved over the years, and he’s right in his assertion that Marsh shouldn’t have been picked for this series; that his selection sends the wrong message to young cricketers. Marsh didn’t deserve a place on this tour, but he may well have been the right man for the moment.

If Marsh can he can add consistency to his other talents, it was an inspired pick. Judge Shaun Marsh after the end of the series, and after the end of the next one, and the one after that. Then we will see.

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