Kent v New Zealanders, Canterbury, 2nd day April 29, 2008

Marshall sets sights on Lord's return

It was an unsatisfactory day for New Zealand's batsmen at Canterbury, as heavy rain delayed the start of play and hastened the finish, and allowed only 38.2 overs in between whiles. But for their not-out No. 3, James Marshall, humble beginnings will do ju


James Marshall: on the comeback trail© Getty Images
 
It was an unsatisfactory day for New Zealand's batsmen at Canterbury, as heavy rain delayed the start of play and hastened the finish, and allowed only 38.2 overs in between whiles. But for their not-out No. 3, James Marshall, humble beginnings will do just fine as he sets about re-establishing himself on the international stage.

Marshall hasn't played a Test for New Zealand since their tour of Zimbabwe in 2005, and he's featured in only 13 internationals all told - the most recent being a one-day international against Sri Lanka in January 2007. But having finished the day unbeaten on 20 from 70 balls, he's taken a small but significant step towards one of the biggest prizes in the world game. A maiden Test appearance at Lord's.

"At the moment I'm batting at three, and if I score heavily leading up to the Tests I've got an opportunity to bat there," said Marshall. "We would have liked to get a full day in bright sunshine, but at the moment my focus is just on scoring runs, and getting used to the English conditions. The wicket was a tad slow and low, and there were defensive fields, but we combated that with a lot of patience."

Marshall is the man in possession, but whoever plays in the No. 3 position at Lord's has an incredibly hard act to follow. When England last faced New Zealand at Napier last month, Stephen Fleming was the man at first-drop, and his tally of 7172 runs at 40.06 is rather more imposing than Marshall's 166 at 23.71.

Marshall, however, was intent on looking forward, not back. "Flem's a hard player to replace, he played a lot of cricket for New Zealand, but this is a different era now," he said. "Whoever takes the role will express their own skills in it and not feel the pressure to be like Flem.

"We may have the tag of underdogs and, yes, we are more inexperienced than the English, but that's a tag we can take on board. This is a challenge to us, and obviously we're not going to back down. Hopefully we'll see a few new faces on this tour, and a few new stars of the future."

Visually it is almost impossible to distinguish Marshall from his twin brother, Hamish, but statistically and in terms of column inches, there is a world of difference. Hamish was a regular for New Zealand in 66 one-day appearances, and featured in last year's World Cup before signing a four-year deal with Gloucestershire. The rebel Indian Cricket League also came calling, but that prospect, however, didn't tempt his brother, who responded by scoring 616 runs at 51.33 in a fine domestic season for Northern Districts.

"The whole time back home in New Zealand, I still had ambitions to play and I didn't want to give that up," said Marshall. "I felt I had unfinished business there, I had a good season back home, and I got the reward with selection for this tour. There was a lot of talk - people asking, 'are you going, aren't you?' - but it never really crossed my mind.

"I see this as a definite opportunity," he said. "From the last time I played, I've grown up a lot more. When I first played, it was just nice to be involved with the Black Caps, now I'm a bit more experienced and mature, and it's time to reap the rewards. I'll be going into the Test series playing with confidence, knowing that I can play at this level.

Marshall's overall first-class average is still an undistinguished 30.22, but he feels that, at the age of 29, he's fast approaching his prime. "The way I'm playing the game now, I wish I played like that when I was 21 or 22," he said. "I guess over 11 seasons back home, I've learnt about my game. You're never going to beat cricket, it'll always beat you, but if you can just keep playing your game and slowly develop it, you'll have more good days than bad."

There's no time like the present to start making those good days count. The tour is now entering its formative stage with the arrival of the IPL players, but Marshall is determined that there will be no them-and-us vibes as they knuckle down to business ahead of the first Test.

"At the end of the day, you've just got to look at the skills we've got and the team spirit we've got," he said. "Even though the guys have been over in the IPL, it's not affected us and the group is very tight. They've enjoyed their time out there, but now it's about getting into this tour, because it's one that New Zealanders dream of. Most cricketers do, coming to England."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo