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As Australia stand on the cusp of defeat, with only two wickets remaining and an entire final day of play left, the decision to bring an out of form Mitchell Marsh into the side doesn’t appear to be wise”

“We believe Mitch can come in and do a really good job with the bat and obviously he’ll give great support to our bowlers.”

This is what Australian skipper Tim Paine had said in the pre-match press conference about the inclusion of Mitchell Marsh in the squad for the Boxing Day Test. Despite his poor run of form of late, Paine firmly believed that the all-rounder would perform both with bat and ball, thus providing a much-needed balance to the side which was lacking in presence of Peter Handscomb at No 6.

However, as they stand on the cusp of defeat with only two wickets remaining and an entire final day of play left in the Test, the decision to bring an out of form Marsh into the side hasn’t turned out to wise. He returned with poor scores of 9 and 10 in the two innings. Although he was economical during his bowling spell of 26 overs in the first innings, during which he conceded only 51 runs, he failed to show anything in the wickets column. He did the job of supporting the other bowlers quite well but failed miserably to do his main job which is batting.

The 27-year old has played 31 Test matches so far in his four-year-long international career. Yet, he has never justified his tag of an all-rounder, at least from the aspect of bowling. His batting has been slightly better and the only time he had come up with a meaningful performance was during the 2017/18 Ashes Series in which he scored 320 runs, including two centuries, in four innings at an average of 106.7. He had followed that up with a fighting 96 against South Africa at Durban as well.

But the string of poor performances has continued ever since then. In the last 13 innings, Marsh has scored just 129 runs at a dismal average of 9.92. His bowling statistics don’t read any better as he has claimed just 6 wickets at a poor average of 53.00 in the previous 10 innings he has bowled. 

So, it sums up why the decision of picking Mitchell Marsh for this all-important Test against India was rather foolish than a leap of faith.

Read also: Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon: What more can they do?

The thing that has brought the 27-year old more under the spotlight is the way he got dismissed during Australia’s second innings, just at the stroke of Tea break on day four. He gave away an easy catch as he chipped a delivery bowled by Ravindra Jadeja straight into the hands of the cover fielder.

“I am absolutely lost for words watching that. Mind you he had a bit of tempt the over before when he was trying to take Jadeja over his head. He’s on three, yes he got away with one, but now he’s walking back to the pavilion,” former Australian batsman Simon Katich was quoted as speaking to SEN radio.

So, the question is what should be the way forward for Australia in terms of their primary all-round option. One player has already put his hand up in this match showing that he is not only a terrific bowler but a highly capable batsman too. Pat Cummins denied India a chance to wrap up the match on the fourth day itself with a fighting knock of 62* to follow up his brilliant bowling efforts of 9/99 in the match.

He batted with grit, determination and patience and showed how one is supposed to bat in these situations of crisis. Some of the shots that he played would put even the top order batsmen of the team in shame. The straight drive he played during the closing hours of the day was delightful to watch. So, Australia can try him as their long-term No. 6 or No.7 batsman in place of Mitchell Marsh for the coming time ahead. The move would allow them to play another specialist pacer in their team which will add to their bowling depth.

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Another option they can consider is to bring Marcus Stoinis into the Test squad. It’s true that the first class records of Stoinis and Mitchell Marsh are not so different. While Marsh averages 31.93 with the bat in first-class matches, Stoinis averages slightly better at 33.61. His bowling average of 42.36 might not seem to match the level of Marsh who has a bowling average of 31.91, but that doesn’t mean Stoinis wouldn’t be able to do well in Tests.

Marsh hasn’t been able to replicate his first-class bowling average in Tests, as he averages a dismal 42.45 in the international format as compared to 31.91 in overall first-class cricket. The thing about Stoinis is that he has done a pretty good job for Australia as an all-rounder in limited overs formats. So, if he is given a chance, he may well transform his limited over format form into Tests as well.

However, it all boils down to what the Australian team wants at the moment.

Do they want a bowling all-rounder who can chip in with the bat, or they want a batting all-rounder who can take the load off the pacers by bowling a few overs in each innings?

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Going by their trend in recent years, it appears that they want the latter. The highest number of overs Mitchell Marsh has bowled in an innings since his Test debut is 26. There have been only two of such instances, one was in the first innings of this Test match at the MCG and another came two years back against South Africa at Perth. If his number of overs per innings is taken into consideration, it will appear that Marsh has bowled only 9 overs on average in a total of 52 innings.

So, Stoinis is the first option they need to consider if they are looking for a like-for-like replacement. If not so, promoting Pat Cummins higher up the order—probably at No. 7 with Paine moved up to 6—seems to be the best possible option. Going into the match at Sydney, it won’t be a bad option to drop Mitchell Marsh and try Cummins’ move up the order.

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