Australia in South Africa 2013-14 January 20, 2014

Shaun Marsh, fortunate son

He has done very little of late to warrant a Test spot for Australia, but he must find a way to repay the enormous, inordinate faith of selectors, coaches and team-mates

Shaun Marsh found a place in Australia's Test squad for the upcoming tour of South Africa having made just 275 first-class runs at 34.37 this summer. He has scored one century.

That hundred, an unbeaten 127 against Victoria at the WACA, was Marsh's first in long-form cricket since being dropped from the team after the 2011-12 series against India. In those matches, Marsh made 17 runs in six innings at an average of 2.83.

Last summer, just after Justin Langer had replaced Mickey Arthur's successor, Lachlan Stevens, as the coach of Western Australia, Marsh made 154 first-class runs at 19, with a highest score of 84. He was out of the WA team for much of the season.

Apart from those players in the Test team this summer, 11 other Australian batsmen have made more first-class runs in 2013-14 than Marsh has compiled in the past two seasons combined. In ascending order, they are Adam Voges, Rob Quiney, Ben Dunk, Travis Head, Ed Cowan, Tom Cooper, Phillip Hughes, Cameron White, Ryan Carters, Chris Lynn and Marcus North.

Marsh made his debut for WA in 2001 while still a teenager and in his second season, he made 119 against a full-strength New South Wales, earning the praise of Steve Waugh and convincing many present in Newcastle that he was destined for greatness. In 11 summers since then, he has made another seven first-class tons.

Marsh has a long history of disciplinary problems in WA. He was among the players suspended during Perth Scorchers' 2012 Champions League campaign. Previously, in 2007, he and state team-mate Luke Pomersbach were suspended after a boozy night. Marsh says: "I had a few distractions away from cricket as well, which you just can't have when you're playing for Australia. I knew I had to change my lifestyle."

Langer is not Marsh's only ally among the powerful and influential in Australian cricket. The national team coach, Darren Lehmann, is an avowed fan of Marsh's talent, having coached him for King's XI Punjab in the IPL as recently as last year. "He's backed me in a fair bit since he's been with the Australian team. He's a fantastic coach and he's been great for Australian cricket," Marsh said.

Numerous senior members of the Australian Test team are convinced that Marsh is the best batsman outside of the XI. Much of this conviction stems from his debut series in Sri Lanka in 2011, when Marsh made 141 on debut in the second Test, in Pallekele, and followed up with more runs in the third match, in Colombo. Brad Haddin is among the believers. "It was nice to be there at the end [of Sunday's ODI] with Brad Haddin," Marsh said. "He's been very good to me as well, whenever I've come back into the team he's been really supportive."

They have also been swayed by Marsh's proficiency in short formats, whether it be his success in the IPL or consistent scoring for Australia whenever chosen in the ODI team. In the domestic limited-overs tournament that commenced the season, Marsh struck 430 runs at 86, with one century and four other scores over 50. His time in the ODI team has been interrupted largely by injuries - chronic hamstring trouble has affected Marsh for much of his career.

After Sri Lanka, Marsh played his only Test match in South Africa, at Newlands in Cape Town. In the first innings on a lively pitch, he reached 44 in the company of Michael Clarke before being trapped lbw. His back then seized up and he made a duck in the second innings before missing the rest of the tour. "In that first Test match that he played, Australia eventually were bowled out for a very small total," John Inverarity, the national selector, said. "But in that first innings, Michael Clarke made a century and Shaun played exceptionally well against that attack."

Since becoming coach of WA, Langer has made demands of Marsh, trying to reshape his mental approach while also making a few technical adjustments. He has also pushed the WA squad hard, not forgiving them for the tendencies towards indiscipline that have led to more than a decade of under-performance. "We haven't won anything in WA for a long period of time and I think you've got to actually earn the right to go out and enjoy yourselves and have fun," Marsh said. "Once you start winning games of cricket and winning finals, then you can start to do that a little bit more."

Marsh is aware of how fortunate he is to be granted yet another chance, having done very little in pure performance terms to warrant it. At the age of 30 he has had more chances than any Australian cricketer should have a right to, and acknowledges that the enormous degree of selection faith he has been given must somehow be repaid. "They've obviously shown a huge amount of faith in me," he said. "It'd be nice to reward them with a few runs in South Africa if I get a chance to play."

Marsh is not entirely sure why he has been thrust back into Test contention once more, and could barely believe it when Inverarity called him. But in addition to Langer, Lehmann, Haddin, Clarke and others, there is the other benefactor to be considered. Shaun Marsh's dad is Geoff "Swampy" Marsh, the former Australia vice-captain and opening batsman, who was on hand to present his son with a Test cap in Sri Lanka in 2011. Whatever Marsh has been, and whatever he may become, he will always be SOS, the son of Swampy.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dan on January 24, 2014, 0:02 GMT

    Bailey never looked the part this ashes series, I think it was a good call to leave him out. Marsh must be the luckiest man in test cricket, averages 35 after many years in first class cricket. Compare that with say, Chris Hartley who averages 32 after a similar number of games, with an almost exact number of hundreds and fifties, widely regarded for most of his career as the best gloveman in the country yet never really in contention for a test place because he was viewed as a keeper of the Ian Healy era - i.e. his batting not strong enough. Go figure. But thanks Dad.

  • Mick on January 23, 2014, 6:47 GMT

    Marsh has not performed well enough to be selected in any format really. In short format his run rate is too slow, in first class his recent average is too low. Then is really a question of his ability to withstand the very best pace bowling. Is that special enough to give him a job in SA other than carrying the drinks? Make him 12th man for the whole series, I would say. Likewise Bailey did not justify test selection either. Rogers did, but took so long to actually pick him. Too many youth obsessed people I reckon. O.K. Sometimes a gamble pays off: Mitchell Johnson. I don't see that being a good short format batsmen makes a good test batsmen. The field is set so differently.

  • Peter on January 22, 2014, 20:44 GMT

    @whensdrinks, "Marsh resembles Mark Waugh"? Huh? Waugh's FC career average was 52 compared to Marsh's 35? After 7 Tests, Marsh averages 27, after 7 tests, Waugh averaged 61 & this after both scored centuries on debut. Marsh has never displayed the form to warrant test selection, even when we were battling for players.

  • Grant on January 22, 2014, 15:28 GMT

    Whens Drinks I think Marsh prefers the pace. He struggles early in his innings with the ball angling across outside off (as does Hughes) but aside from that I think he is a much better player of pace than spin. Gets bogged down easy against spin

  • geoff on January 22, 2014, 5:56 GMT

    @whensdrinks - Mark Waugh's Test average of 41.81 puts him in the top 10% of Australian top 6 batsman in the last 50 years, something I doubt Marsh or Doolan will ever manage. Can't understand the comparisons between Waugh and Marsh though; Marsh stands on the wrong side of the bat and the wrong side of the continent.....

  • Ralph on January 22, 2014, 4:22 GMT

    Hughes weak spot is against spin, he is good against pace. Marsh struggles with pace, even the medium fast Indian pacemen. The Saffers do not have a half decent spinner but a world class pace attack so we select Marsh. Unfathomable selection.

    You would think that the selectors would have learnt that T20 and 50 over batsmen with poor FC records do not usually make good test players. Warner is the exception, not the rule. The fact that Marsh resembles M Waugh is no great recommendation. Waugh kept his place because he was from NSW and brother of Steve. No-one played more tests with a worse average and he kept out players with more talent.

  • James on January 22, 2014, 4:15 GMT

    Australia just does not have enough Test-level batsmen, and despite all the learned opinion on the matter. Why go on giving one or two spots in the eleven according to guesswork or whim? It is highly unlikely any of the players SOSed in is going to morph into the real thing one sunny afternoon as an umpire magic-wands a four. A better way to beat opposition totals might be to play one more bowler. The question should be, 'What bowling average equates to what batting average?'

  • Dummy4 on January 22, 2014, 1:34 GMT

    Marsh! Are you serious? It's not what you know but who you know. This privileged boys club is what killed Aussie cricket. Marsh has done nothing great in ANY form of the game, never steps up when you need him... bah bring on the footy i'm over cricket.

  • Philip on January 21, 2014, 21:36 GMT

    Why is everyone so surprised by this re-selection? Once upon a time, things were simple. If you made enough runs in grade cricket, then you played Sheffield Shield, and if you made enough runs in that you played Tests. Now there's three formats to consider, so things have gotten blurred. Very, very blurred. Tests may appear to be the main game (as of course they should be). However, they really are the poor relation. It starts young. Talented kids are playing heaps of T20. Short-form strike-rate seems to matter more than anything resembling long-innings potential. Some get to national U19 selection and they play the U19WC one dayers, of course. Then some play FC matches and do alright. Sometimes, but not all that often. In that respect, Shaun Marsh has now been seen to have done enough. The selection landscape has changed. Marsh need not be bogged down in having to actually make boring Sheffield Shield runs. All who think it should be otherwise are, it seems, living on past glories.

  • Alex on January 21, 2014, 12:42 GMT

    So at the same time Marsh was at the Wesley College in Perth, Inverarity was headmaster at the Hale School, a fellow Public Schools Association of WA (read private school) school. Marsh is the most overrated underachiever in Australian cricket but then his father is an ex Australian school coach and player at the same time Lehman was a player. Meanwhile Marsh has scored 4764 runs in FC cricket at an average of 35.02 with 8 hundreds in 154 innings while Hughes has scored 8381 runs in FC cricket with an average of 45.54 with 24 tons in 196 innings. Marsh has a test average of 27.36 and Hughes 32.65 with 3 test centuries (Marsh 1), 2 of them scored in one test against South Africa in SA. Something stinks in Australian cricket. Hughes is the leading run scorer in Shield cricket and has fixed his perceived weaknesses. What has Marsh done? Nothing except disciplinary issues, bad back and poor form. Perhaps the publicity has gone to Lehmann's head?

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