Australia v India, 4th Test, Adelaide, 1st day January 24, 2012

Marsh's migraine

A back injury, technical problems and a tendency to have big batting peaks and troughs have all contributed to his Test troubles

A handful of months ago in Sri Lanka, Shaun Marsh reminded Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke how to bat in a Test match. Calm, judgement, awareness of the off stump, leaving the ball with intent, forcing the bowler to drift straighter in search of wickets, and concentration maintained over a period of hours. Neither Ponting nor Clarke were entirely in command of their games at the time, but Marsh showed them precisely how to do it. His 141 on debut in Kandy was the consummate top order innings, an 81 in his second match in Colombo not far behind. No-one watching from the dressing room or the stands was in any doubt that Australia had found their new No. 3.

Yet here was Marsh in Adelaide, pondering an uncertain future in the players' viewing area as Ponting and Clarke showed him exactly how well they had learned from his example. Marsh had lasted 12 balls for 3, his stay ended when he brought his defensive blade across straight delivery from R Ashwin that went on to flick the off stump. Since returning to the team after a back injury, Marsh has tallied 17 runs in five innings. Among top six Test batsmen to have played at least as many innings in a series, only the teenaged Ken Rutherford's West Indian nightmare of 1985 has been worse. With Shane Watson in the wings, there can now be no guarantee that Marsh will be given the chance to venture to the Caribbean himself. In batting terms, he has a migraine that cannot seem to be shaken.

As Noel Gallagher found himself asking in song after Oasis receded from their peak, Marsh had to ponder the question: where did it all go wrong? Injury had something to do with it, certainly. A back complaint hobbled him when set in the first innings of the incomprehensible Cape Town Test against South Africa, and kept him out of the team until the start of the India series in Melbourne, near enough to two months later. He was kept around the squad as much as possible, in line with the team performance manager Pat Howard's emphasis on the value of proximity and communication, and proved his fitness for Boxing Day by coshing an unbeaten 99 for the Perth Scorchers in the Twenty20 Big Bash League.

While the injury was inconvenient, it could not have ruined Marsh's game so comprehensively as it has appeared during the India Tests. Marsh, it must be said, is used to the rhythms of rehabilitation, having fought a succession of back and hamstring problems dating back to his earliest stints in the Australian limited-overs team. Each time he has resumed and done well enough to keep himself in the selectors' thoughts, while in three summers preceding the winter of 2011 he had compiled enough Sheffield Shield runs to make the Test squad for Sri Lanka. The back complaint did not help Marsh, but its obstacles were not insurmountable.

Among top six Test batsmen to have played at least five innings in a series, only the teenaged Ken Rutherford's West Indian nightmare of 1985 has been worse than Marsh's 17 runs

Technique can also be ruled out as the sole source of Marsh's troubles. His run of dismissals has not resembled that of Phillip Hughes against New Zealand, the monotony being more to do with the slim nature of his scores than the manner of his exits. In Melbourne Marsh was caught at point and bowled off an inside edge, in Sydney he edged a delivery zipping away from him, in Perth he edged one angling across, and Adelaide had him bowled between bat and pad by Ashwin's straight-break. If anything there has been a trace of the tentative about Marsh's approach, a fact acknowledged by Australia's coach Mickey Arthur. But a man once described by a team-mate as "technically the best player in the country" should have more than enough motor resources to keep out an Indian attack more modest than menacing.

The best clues as to why Marsh has proven so unable to match the standards he had set in his first series can arguably be found in his own personal history. Since the start of his time in the first-class game, Marsh has invariably followed feast with famine, or famine with feast. He had gone seven innings with a highest score of 46 before he made a Sheffield Shield 119 against New South Wales that so impressed Steve Waugh. It was another 12 innings, with a highest of 47, before he added a second century. So it has gone for most of Marsh's career since, in a pattern common to many Western Australian batsmen of recent vintage. Marcus North, Adam Voges, Luke Ronchi and Liam Davis, contemporaries all, have uncannily similar knacks for extremes, though they span a broad gamut of character and batting style. Not surprisingly, trophies have eluded them.

Another element to the Marsh conundrum is the self-imposed pressure of scoring runs at home. A century at the height of summer can carry far more perceived weight than a finer one constructed on foreign shores when the nation's minds are occupied by other things. Marsh was watched by his father Geoff in Sri Lanka, but few others. In Australia he has found himself being questioned by a great deal more pairs of eyes, on surfaces that have punished a moment's hesitation against the new ball. There have been other talented batsmen to freeze under this spotlight, Michael Bevan, Greg Blewett and North among them.

Clarke and Ponting also dealt with poor scores and the selectors' wrath during home Tests. Both lost their place (Ponting in 1996 and 1998, Clarke in 2005), and emerged much the stronger for it. They were granted recalls after returning to domestic ranks and clattering plenty of runs, an option open to the selectors if they choose to omit Marsh from the triangular limited-overs series squad that follows two Twenty20 matches in Sydney and Melbourne. Either way, Marsh's place in the Test team is now well and truly out of his hands, and it would take a very generous selection panel indeed to allow him the chance to seek another overseas feast in Barbados, Trinidad and Guyana.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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