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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • kieran on January 25, 2012, 20:59 GMT

    Attn to the Cricinfo staff; when submitting a comment you indicate that comment will be moderated before publishing, yet you continue to allow comments that racially vilify national communities. I draw your attention to the following comment; Posted by DrMNAhmed on (January 24 2012, 12:36 PM GMT). This is a clear and highly offensive attack on Australian society. This is not the first time I have been forced to call for more vigorous moderation. Again, I wonder if I commented on the digusting nature of the caste system in India which continues to propagate segregation and hatred, would my comment be posted? I doubt it.

  • Garry on January 25, 2012, 12:44 GMT

    @Meety fair call, I'm a fan of Khawaja too and it's been unfortunate he hasn't had a consistent crack at it, one day I hope to see a top 7 of Warner, Khawaja, Cowan, Watson , Clarke, Marsh, Wade. For that to happen, most of them have some work to do. Hughes, Maddinson, Ferguson and others to be there or there abouts. It really couldn't have gone worse for Marsh this series and it gives people plenty of ammunition to his dropped cause and that's the reality of being an international cricketer, runs count, not just talent, I'm still hopeful he can be a valuable and more reliable test player. Records are important but I go by what I see and have seen. Pretty hard to see Punter and Huss moving anytime soon, particularly Punter the way he is hitting them but wanted to see them go out on top in Australia not like how Allan Border did overseas (he deserved to go out in Oz) but you don't always get that chance. Hate to see our older players decay like some of India's have, especially nxt Ashes

  • Andrew on January 25, 2012, 11:38 GMT

    @katandthat3 - why give him that leeway & not Khawaja who got 6 disjointed tests? Honestly at no stage has Khawaja looked as likely to get out as Marsh, AND Khawaja has had to bat on tougher pitches (Newlands excepted). The thing is Khawaja has FC stats in the mid 40s & averages a 100 every 8 FC innings, Marsh averages 38 & a ton every 18 innings. I know Marsh has improved, but he really has looked awful in Oz. Maybe save him for the return test series in India, where he knows the pitches (IPL) & has some good form from SL to back it up, but mate I'd rather give Christian a go. In fact I'd rather pick Wade or Neville as specialist batsmen atm! Can't prove it but I reckon had Khawaja had a crack at India on the Adelaide Oval, he would of got a lot more than 3! Don't get me wrong, I want Marsh to do well, as with any player playing for Oz, but I am underwhelmed by him. Never rated him in the first place, was happy to be proven wrong after his first 2 tests, but his ave of 31.1 is spot on

  • Garry on January 25, 2012, 9:36 GMT

    Marshy will be right. As Moody said he looks 'lost' at the moment, 4 tests ago he wasn't even in discussions about having his place in doubt after Sri Lanka and Sth Africa. 7 tests isn't exactly a long time and while he'd be pretty disappointed in his returns he's good enough to bounce back, the skills are still there, has to clear the mind and relax. The fact the Aussies are winning means they can give him leeway as pretty much every other player has been given a decent crack. He'll need to get back to Shield once this series is over and score runs and even in the ODI's if he's there. I still think he's a big show to go the WI and not the end of story @Meety thinks it is. He is a great talent but as we all know runs are the currency. I don't necessarily think he has to be No3 either he could bat 5 or 6 as well, he's good enough to be anywhere in the top 6 in the next 6-7 years. A lot of good judges think he is good enough and I agree with them, time will tell, it's up to him.

  • Dummy4 on January 25, 2012, 5:16 GMT

    Marsh's character is entirely different from any other Australian player. He is just a duplication of Yuvraj Singh, his former Kings XI teammate (Ask any Yuvraj fan who is your favourite player after Yuvi - The answer surely be either Shaun Marsh/Eoin Morgan). All of them are really gifted stroke players, have abilities to hit a 100m long six to any part of the ground with ease. But their mental abilities are really questionable, thats the reason why they are unable to transfer their limited overs success to Test Cricket. If you can manage their mind set you will be the proudest person in the world, they are such a gifted players.

    I suggest the Aussie selectors to drop Marsh from Tri Series, so that he can get ready for WI tour by playing in Sheffield Shield.

  • Peter on January 25, 2012, 4:14 GMT

    Meety (24 Jan 23:36 PM): I agree Khawaja certainly looks like the more natural No.3 in the long term. I'd like to think S Marsh still has a lot to offer at maybe Nos.5 or 6 in post-Ponting/M Hussey era.

  • John on January 25, 2012, 3:37 GMT

    I agree with many that Watson should come into the side for Marsh but I'm not sure that will happen. Everyone seemed adamant that Watson was opening and that's that so I'm not sure that they'll put him at #3. If they do want him to open then that means Cowan or Warner at #3, which I don't see either. If they want to keep Cowan and Warner at the top then Watson will likely slot in lower down, which means moving Ponting back up to #3. Now that he's back in form I don't see an issue with that, but it's obviously not the selectors long-term desire.

  • Dummy4 on January 25, 2012, 3:24 GMT

    The people who criticise Shaun Marsh for an average first class record, then suggest Callum Ferguson in the same breath is crazy. If you compare their records they both average in the mid thirties and have either 6 or 7 first class centuries to their name. You can't blast Marsh for being 'average' then suggest a similar type of player.

  • rienzie on January 25, 2012, 2:17 GMT

    While I personally would like Shaun to play, however, now witht he Indian meak and mild attack playing our batsmen into form , the confidence is sky high, and there are plenty of batsman to come in and replace him, Watson, Chrisitian, North, Davis, Voges, Klinger and it is great that the players are fighting to hold on their spots, as competition will lead to better results in the long run

  • Dummy4 on January 25, 2012, 2:05 GMT

    I'm a supporter of Marsh, and having seen him bat a number of times know the quality of cricket he can play. But fine players, like Ponting and Clarke have been dropped, and each emerged the stronger for it. Marsh needs to return to Shield cricket, and ultimately if he's good enough he'll make the runs needed to demand a recall. Meanwhile, the calls for Hughes and Khawaja are more than just a little sad. Both had extended runs in the Australian side, and both were found lacking technically.

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