Steven Smith, from the dugout, raised his index finger signalling for the Australians to bat for one final over before they declared the innings on Day two at Adelaide. Shaun Marsh and Nathan Lyon were at the crease with the former with the strike. England’s Stuart Broad was given to bowl the innings’ last over. The first delivery, Broad managed to keep it dot. He went for a shorter length in the next ball and Marsh, being a decent player of short balls, punished it to through mid-wicket for a four. Broad went full but the result was same as Marsh added another four runs.
What happened on the fourth ball seemed like Marsh had reserved his best to only unleash it on Broad in the final over. Broad bowled a length ball, Marsh switched gears and hammered it straight for a 95m six. Marsh then only managed to take a run in the next two balls and Australia declared at 442 for 8. While the 15 runs taken off that Broad over certainly would have hampered his confidence, it would have done wonders to Marsh’s reliance on his game. There have never been doubts about the talented Marsh’s game. He is a sweet-timer of the ball and is one of the few Australian batsmen who has done well not only at home but also in tougher subcontinent conditions. However, the only glitch that has never really let his career got off to a flyer is consistency issues.
When Marsh made his Test debut in 2011, he announced his arrival with an excellent 141 off 315 balls. That knock gave out an impression that Australia had found a man who could play longer innings and step up following a poor start from the openers. Marsh had scored a half-century in his second Test before he lost his touch in the next eight innings. Out of which, six scores were in single digits inclusive of four ducks. Since that bad patch, he has been on and off the side. There has never been a period in a calendar year where Marsh has played all the series for Australia.
Prior to the Ashes, he was recalled in the Test side for the India series after he was ignored for Australia’s home series against Pakistan. He began the India tour with a duck in Pune. Neither did he do well in the second innings where he was dismissed for just 16 runs. He somehow retained his place in the side when he scored a fighting 66 in Bengaluru when most of the other batsmen had struggled against the top-class Indian attack. Marsh had scored another fifty in Ranchi before he ended up with single-digit scores in the next three innings.
There were no surprises when he was axed from the side that toured Bangladesh.
There ended up being a major chaos when Cricket Australia announced the squad for the Ashes 2017-18. There were several twists and turns that did not go well with the supporters, who did not hesitate to question their decisions. Two players who received the utmost attention were Shaun Marsh and Tim Paine. While Paine’s selection turned out to be an outrage among the cricketing pundits and fans, in comparison to that, Marsh’s inclusion ranked relatively low on the shock scale.
Since Marsh’s maiden Test in 2011 till this year’s Ashes, Australia have played three series against England and Marsh had played only one Test out of those 15 matches. He was included in the playing XI of the Nottingham Test in 2015 where he ended up scores of 0 and 2. Neither did he have a world-class record against England that could have justified his selection not did he have excellent scores off-late to back him. Considering Marsh’s eight innings prior to the Ashes, he averaged 18.87. The last Test century he scored was over a year ago in Sri Lanka and his previous ton at home was two years ago against West Indies. He had scored 182, that still remains his highest score in Tests.
Earlier this year, he was the highest run-scorer in 2017–18 JLT One-Day Cup. He scored 412 runs at an average of 82.40 for Western Australia, who went on to clinch the trophy. Even in the Sheffield Shield, he scored three fifties in the three matches he played before Cricket Australia announced the Ashes squad. Since the domestic run was given a heavy weight-age for the Ashes selection, Marsh was in at No. 6, where Australia wanted an extra batsman and not an all-rounder.
In the first Test in Brisbane, Marsh joined Smith when Australia were four-down already with just 76 runs on the board. It was the perfect platform for him to show his critics that he is not that bad after all. He still has what is needed in a player who deserves a place in the Ashes squad. He played a responsible knock as he began slowly against the in-fire England attack. Off his first 36 deliveries, only two shots were managed off his bat. But, he stuck around like a rock on the other side as Smith was the man of the moment. As he produced strong defensive skills, he marched towards a gritty fifty. He shared a 99-run stand with Smith for the fifth wicket and that partnership revived Australia’s innings that had begun to ripped apart.
When England won the toss and Joe Root opted to bowl first, he faced heavy criticism for that decision. He had become the first captain to bowl first in a Day/Night Test. However when Craig Overton destroyed the stumps of first Test’s Player of the Match, Smith and left Australia at 161 for 4, suddenly England’s bowling first started to seem a good call. That dismissal brought Marsh in the middle. At stumps of the first day, Peter Handscomb was on 36 and Marsh on 20.
Broad trapped Handcomb early on the second day and broke the stand of 48 runs. Tim Paine was the new man in and the Australia suddenly had two players who have never been in the good books of the fans. Even before the series had commenced, everybody had slammed these two for letting Australia down with their repetitive poor scores. Australia were in crisis, England’s attack was not at its best and an opportunity was plainly staged for these two to prove themselves in from of the local crowd.
So far in the series, Paine had done a great job behind the wickets. In the first Test, he had given away just five byes in the first innings and none in the second one. His thunder-like stumping of Moeen Ali acknowledged the fact that the selectors would have completely not made a mistake by recalling him. All that was left to do was make his bat speak.
Paine walked in the crease in the first over of the second day and little did England know he would join Marsh to frustrate them with extreme defensive skills. He made good judgements against Anderson and Broad. By striking early boundaries against the former, Paine shifted pressure back to the Englishmen. One of the major reasons behind Paine’s absence from international cricket also has been his struggle to recover from a fractured right index finger. And exactly there, Paine received a blow but that did not turn out to be too serious.
However, he immediately removed his hand off the bat whenever he played towards the leg side and that made his struggle evident. Marsh, at the other end, took his own time as he added only 29 runs to his score in a two-and-a-half-hour opening session. Both the batsmen were given LBW to James Anderson but DRS overturned the on-field umpire’s decision on both the occasions. Paine then batted on and brought up his fifty from his 91st delivery, before a pull shot went into the hands of Ali in the deep off Craig Overton.
While Paine missed on a golden chance to register a second First-Class century of his career – the first one came 11 years ago – Marsh remained unbeaten as Australia declared at the end of the 149th over. After Marsh’s 48-run stand and a 55-run stand with Handscomb and Paine respectively, his and Australia’s best partnership happened when Pat Cummins joined Marsh in the middle. The two put up 99 runs for the eighth wicket and Cummins, like he had supported Smith in the last match, repeated the same role at Adelaide with Marsh.
Nevertheless, with an unbeaten 126, his fifth century in 25 Tests, Marsh certainly has silenced his critics for at least a while now. It was a fantastic sight to watch two players, who have always been ignored for their inconsistencies, to step up during the crisis and lead their side and prove that they were not totally a bad choice for the Ashes.