When Shaun Marsh earned his ninth Test recall for the iconic Ashes, not many backed his selection while others were left bewildered. Marsh has been in and out of the Australian Test side due to recurring injuries and parched runs column. Despite making his Test debut back in 2011, Marsh has only capped the Baggy Green on 24 occasions and is yet to cement his spot in the side. Nevertheless, selectors showed immense faith in him yet again and Marsh found himself in the 16-men army. The repository of selector’s faith found form at a pivotal time as Marsh stuck to his guns and came out hard at the Gabba.
Marsh was in good touch in Shield cricket, which was the selection ground for many uneven places in the Australian Ashes squad. His selection came as a surprise to many as selectors made it clear that they were looking for young talents, which is why Ed Cowan was not included in the playing XI for his respective Sheffield side. Also, Marsh was included in the side ahead of Glenn Maxwell, who was also having a fair run in Shield cricket and was the frontrunner for the No. 6 spot.
Whatever done was done. The team for the series opener at the Gabba was finalised and Marsh found a place for himself in the playing XI. Things didn’t start well for Marsh on the field. Marsh had a bad back, got involved in a fielding mishap with Mitchell Starc and accidentally stabbed him above the knee with his spikes. To make it worse, he also dropped a catch off Starc’s bowling at the boundary. All this happened in a single day for Marsh and was only piling the pressure on him to deliver.
England posted 302 runs on the board and came out hard with the ball as well. Australia lost early wickets and were precariously placed at 74 for 4. English bowler were tightening the noose around Australia. Steve Smith was out in the middle, running out of partners. When Peter Handscomb was trapped leg before for 14 by James Anderson, things went from bad to worse for Australia. With Tim Paine playing Test cricket almost after seven years, it was mandatory for the partnership between Marsh and Smith to blossom.
When Marsh walked out to bat at No. 6, he had huge hopes pinned to this innings. Somewhere in Sydney, Maxwell had already crossed his 100-run mark for Victoria and was racing towards his double ton, which he ultimately achieved. There was pressure on Marsh to justify his selection, testify his rich form and most importantly, steered the Australian ship out of choppy waters.
Smith stood like a rock at one end and was in dire need of some support from the other. Marsh joined him out in the middle and the journey from there was going to be a tough one. The wicket was on the slower side, there was enough assistance for the spinners. Marsh played and missed his very first delivery from James Anderson. He has a tendency to follow deliveries moving away from him and ends up inducing an outside edge, but this one moved just enough to beat his bat. Marsh is one batsman, against whom, a bowler will always have half a chance even though if he is batting on a hundred or more than that.
England bowlers were charged up and sniffed a possible batting collapse; Joe Root was leading the side well and tried his best to milk a wicket. Australia didn’t have enough firepower in their batting and it was pivotal for this pair to fire. Most of the recognised batsmen had floundered and they didn’t have enough options coming up.
Smith and Marsh bid their time at the crease and ensured Australia didn’t lose another wicket till stumps. Marsh garnered 44 runs to his name and stitched a crucial 89-run stand with Smith to sail the Australian ship out of choppy waters. Australia were well placed at 165 for 4 by stumps on Day 2.
Nathan Lyon praised Marsh for the kind of innings he played under the pump. Lyon was quoted in a report from smh.com.au saying, “I thought the way SOS (Marsh) and Smith batted there, especially an hour after Tea, was probably one of the hardest hours they’ve faced for a long time. I’m a massive fan of Shaun Marsh. I’m very good mates with him. The way he batted against us in the Shield cricket a couple of weeks ago really put his name up in lights for me. He looks composed, he looks calm at the wicket. I’m very confident he can come out and hopefully build a big partnership with Smithy. It’s going to be challenging – we know England have world-class bowlers – but it’s exciting.”
Marsh has got a solid start and will look to convert it into a big score when play resumes on Day 2. If he manages to do so, he would have definitely justified his recall to an extent. He is widely reckoned for his temperament and did exhibit one when his team was in need of. Although Australia are not in a very comfortable position yet, a wicket at this juncture will steer them to a delicate position again. But they couldn’t have bargained for more after losing four big wickets under 100. If this partnership blossoms into a big one, Australia in all likeliness should gain a decent lead.