Top performer - Damien Martyn November 1, 2006

You can't keep a good man down

Damien Martyn hardly ever looks ruffled. Not when arching his back leg to dissect two gullies or when sipping a freshly ordered coffee. Not even when answering his thousandth question about the 1993-94 SCG Test

Head-turning bounce: Damien Martyn misreads Jerome Taylor © Getty Images
Damien Martyn hardly ever looks ruffled. Not when arching his back leg to dissect two gullies or when sipping a freshly ordered coffee. Not even when answering his thousandth question about the 1993-94 SCG Test. Which was why it was frightening when he submitted to a Jerome Taylor bouncer in Australia's opening Champions Trophy match at Mumbai that rocked into the back of the unrockable's head.

The slow reaction and late turn as the ball sped closer to Martyn felt like a serious concern. He is one of the senior group of Australian players who carry ticking clocks like the crocodile in Peter Pan. Three days before his 35th birthday his time seemed near. Recovering slowly from the blow, he fell three overs later, but Martyn is proving hard to kill.

Australia's Test selectors first tried it after the five-run loss to South Africa in 1993-94 and they had another go last year only for Martyn to snap back like saloon-bar doors. He responded to the latest headache with two classy half-centuries to ease Australia into the semi-finals. The 78 against England began with a caning of Steve Harmison, a tormentor in 2005, and was the second-most important innings he'd produced since his Test renaissance in South Africa.

Martyn's 101 in the final game at Johannesburg remains a fresh memory for those close to him, but his form over the past week will be more crucial in holding his place for the Ashes. The fierce opening against England was unMartyn-like - his fifty came in 35 balls and Harmison was taken for 27 from 12 deliveries - but it was the loudest statement a man who prefers quiet corners could make. Farewell the form and umpiring troubles of England in 2005 and welcome to 2006-07.

Michael Clarke, Shane Watson, Andrew Symonds and Phil Jaques also have claims on middle-order Test places, although Martyn has almost certainly upgraded from probable to certainty. Ricky Ponting is in no doubt about the record or summer prospects of his close friend and has penned Martyn into his preferred outfit for Brisbane on November 23. It's now his spot to hand back.

Go ahead and jump: Damien Martyn leaps like Brett Lee as Australia beat India © Getty Images

While Martyn is rarely flustered, he is also usually reluctant to show bursts of emotion. Since his marriage to Annika McNamara he seems to have softened and is smiling more, even after a sun-affected dropped catch off Glenn McGrath in the England game. His jumping celebration to end Sunday's contest and secure a semi-final against New Zealand on Wednesday was more Brett Lee than Martyn. He had fought through tough patches against India's spinners, surviving Harbhajan Singh like he had in the 2004 series, and emerged with an unbeaten 73. The leap showed how much life he has left.

Statistically speaking
He's on a half-century roll with 52, 17, 78 and 73 not out in his past four matches. In 25 one-day games against England he averages 65.21, his best return against anyone but Zimbabwe, who have seen his mean reach 118.00 in 15 fixtures.

He said
"The selectors made their choice and I've been lucky enough to get another chance. I want to go out there now and hopefully show everyone that this is what I do at No. 4 when I'm batting well."

He also said
"It was a shame I couldn't be there at the end [against England] but it was good to get some runs. It was good all round, we've been waiting for this game for a long time, since we left England last year. We enjoyed the moment because we've had a lot of bad moments."

They said
"In my eyes he hasn't been under any pressure whatsoever, I see him as a vital player in our team. Coming in at No. 4 is a difficult position to bat, you need to be a certain sort of player to fit in there and we all saw how good a player Damien is, and how he can win you games." Ricky Ponting during the Champions Trophy

What next?
There could be a Champions Trophy finals appearance, but England's five-Test visit will define the closing chapters of about half of the current team. "I'd love to be part of the Ashes win," Martyn says in Inside Cricket, "just being there in Sydney for the fifth Test and being able to say 'we won it back'."

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo