Marsh learning to read Mendis from the hand
Where two weeks ago there was panic in Shaun Marsh's eyes, last night there was calm. Facing up to Ajantha Mendis, who had made him look highly foolish in the second Twenty20 international on the way to startling figures of 6 for16 in Pallekele, Marsh demonstrated the fruits of time in the nets, and the value of sharp concentration against a bowler ready to pounce on the merest lapse.
Upon wandering down the wicket to be stumped in that T20 match, Marsh completed a two-match sequence of 10 balls and four runs for two dismissals. He looked about as likely to flourish against spin as Andrew Hilditch had been to survive the release of the Argus review. While most observers had Marsh batting at No. 6 in the Test series that follows the limited-over matches, now there had to be some doubt.
He was subsequently left out of the team for the first three ODIs, and spent that time with the assistant coach Justin Langer, working on his technique and mental approach. Returning to the international crease in Colombo, with Australia chasing a meagre target, Marsh faced Mendis again, this time armed with the new ball. An innings of 70 played a large part in getting Australia home, and helped Marsh keep himself notionally ahead of Usman Khawaja in the queue for the Australian Test batting order.
As the Australia players enjoyed some rest ahead of the final ODI, on August 22, Marsh said he was far calmer in Colombo than he had ever managed to be in Pallekele.
"I knew if I could just get through those first few overs I'd feel comfortable," Marsh said. "I've faced all the spinners over on the subcontinent before and done well. I knew if I could just get a bit of confidence in the first few overs I'd play my normal game and back my ability, and it was great to get out there and build some confidence.
"It was disappointing in the T20s, [and not selecting me] was the way they went in the first one-day game, but it gave me an opportunity to work really hard against the spinners, and I've enjoyed working with Justin Langer. Going into the game last night I felt confident with the work I've done over the last couple of weeks."
Mendis was not entirely unfamiliar to Marsh, given a few previous jousts in the Indian Premier League, but it clearly took some time for him to summon the application required. It is a common problem among batsmen fed a diet of flat pitches and orthodox bowlers that the skill of watching the hand and the ball can be mislaid.
"That was the main thing, especially after the T20 game where I got stumped. I knew I had to focus on the hand. It is sometimes quite tough, especially early on, but you have to make sure you focus hard and it was good to get through that last night.
"He's a fantastic bowler and he's quite hard to pick, especially with the new ball when you can't really pick the seam, but it was good to get out there and face him and gain a little bit of confidence. They're very challenging bowlers over here on their home soil, so I'll be looking forward to that challenge again tomorrow."
The innings' restorative effect on Marsh has been mirrored on a wider level by Australia's 3-1 series win over the hosts. Led with some panache by the new captain Michael Clarke, Australia have given reason for hope ahead of the Tests, even if the release of the Argus review in Melbourne on Friday reminded all that there are a surfeit of shortcomings to be addressed.
"It's great for the group, it gives us a lot of confidence," Marsh said of the series win. "We knew it was tough coming over here, leading into this series and the T20 stuff up in Brisbane.
"After the two T20 games we really emphasised we wanted to play good, attacking cricket. We've come out and done that; we've been fantastically led by the bowlers and the batters have done their job as well. We've got one one-day game left and we want to win the series 4-1, but we know it's going to be a really tough Test series and we're looking forward to that challenge."
The team's visage on tour was changed by events in Melbourne, not least because of the direct effect the Argus report had on the roles and futures of the coach Tim Nielsen, the selector on duty Greg Chappell and the captain Clarke, who alongside Nielsen now has formal selection responsibilities. Marsh though re-affirmed that the team's sights were set firmly on results and success.
"That's what it's all about. We're just focusing on each game we play and we want to win that for Australia and win that for ourselves. We're just looking forward to that now and looking forward to playing some good cricket."
After besting Sri Lanka in the ODI series, Marsh and his team-mates can appreciate what that feels like.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo