Sri Lanka v Australia, 2nd Test, Pallekele, 3rd day September 10, 2011

Marsh performs, who will perish?

Shaun Marsh's debut century has opened up one of Australian cricket's most significant selection debates and has put pressure on numerous incumbents, including Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke

"It is critical that superior performance is rewarded at all levels. Players must earn their positions in the time-honoured way of making runs, taking wickets and showing that they are ready to play at the next level … players must be held accountable when they are not performing. This has been an issue in recent years." - the Argus review.

A masterful century on Test debut by Shaun Marsh has opened up one of Australian cricket's most significant selection debates for some years, at a time when the panel itself is being remodelled and imbued with the strongest sense that performance must be rewarded above all else.

Marsh was handed his baggy green cap because the former captain Ricky Ponting was absent to attend the birth of his second child. It seemed accepted at the time that Marsh would make way when Ponting returned. But an innings of 141, as part of a stand of 258 with Australia's best Test batsman of the last 12 months, Michael Hussey, was so compelling that Marsh must be retained for the third Test in Colombo.

The matter of who loses his place to accommodate Marsh is rich with viewpoints and intrigues, most of all the fact that the batsmen least able to point to their records for proof of retention include Ponting and the captain Michael Clarke. The man more likely to make way is one of Phil Hughes or Usman Khawaja, yet both are strongly regarded as the future of Australia's Test batting, and neither has performed poorly enough in Sri Lanka to deserve omission from the final Test.

Khawaja has made starts in each of his five Test innings to date, and shows evidence of a classical talent that can only bloom when given time. Hughes is less stylish, but was out to a brute of a ball and a speculative umpiring decision in the first Test in Galle, then gave his side a start in the first innings of the second. His record since being recalled for the injured - and subsequently culled - Simon Katich is not a strong one, but perseverance in his case should also produce an ultimate reward.

Don Argus' stipulations about the need to reward performance above all else shines the harshest light on the batting of the side's two most accomplished players. Ponting and Clarke have both demonstrated strong form in limited-overs cricket of late, but the reserves of concentration demonstrated by Marsh were such that there were lessons for the senior men to learn from it. Neither has made a Test century for 22 innings, and it is entirely questionable on recent evidence if either is presently capable of the sort of sustained batting display that Marsh has just produced.

Before the match Clarke had said he hoped Hughes, Marsh and Khawaja all performed strongly for it would create the sort of pressure for places that all the best teams need. He also conceded that there was not a single batsman in the first Test who could not have done better - though Hussey could be forgiven for diverging from that view.

"I believe these guys do deserve an opportunity, no doubt, but in saying that the player is responsible as well," Clarke had said. "The player needs to grab it with both hands. The great players that I've been lucky to play with, it doesn't really matter how they got their opportunity - whether someone got injured, someone got suspended, someone got rested - generally the guy that came in made the most of that opportunity.

"What we're trying to do with Australian cricket now is to continue to keep our domestic competition as strong as we possibly can, so there is pressure on the international players - there's someone back home that will take your spot. Shaun is dying for his opportunity, now he gets his chance."

That pressure has just been brought most prominently to bear on numerous Australia Test batting incumbents ironically enough by a player who many felt had not put enough runs together to warrant a Test spot in the first place. Marsh's effort will stick in the memory for its poise, patience and maturity - all the attributes an international batsman needs.

During last summer's Ashes series such attributes were in short supply, as all of Australia's batsmen save for Hussey were frustrated by a disciplined English line.

All Western Australia cricketers point to the WACA Ground pitch as an excellent proving ground for top-order players, as its traditional bounce teaches batsmen to become accomplished at leaving all but the straightest and fullest of deliveries early on.

Thus trained, Marsh is capable of batting anywhere from No. 1 to No. 6 in the order, the sort of versatility that means no Australia batsman should feel completely safe about their place in the XI. While Hughes and Khawaja are the duo most likely to be shuffling nervously, the trenchant findings of the Argus review are such that not even Ponting or Clarke should be sitting at ease about where they stand in the makeup of the team.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • M on September 12, 2011, 3:37 GMT

    Once again, a conversation about a few current Aus batsmen in a bit of form contending for 1 position turns into the lynch-mob calling for Johnson's dismissal... " I just don't think we can afford to carry a passenger in the hope of an occasional flash in pan" ... if only our other bowlers could pull off thoses flashes. Check the records, his Test & ODI record is as good or better than all but the GREATS... I will go out on a limb and declare now he will be at least the 3rd highest wicket taker of all time for Aus in both forms... The lad averages 2 wickets per innings... with a 5 pronged attack, that means he is doing his bit ... and if any of you blokes out there have been bowlers, you would well know that some of your best spells don't get a wicket but aid in the wickets falling at the other end. This story is about the batting stocks, and much as I like Marsh, he needs to go back to the bench for Ponting; especially now as this game may well end in a draw.

  • Christopher on September 12, 2011, 0:40 GMT

    @Winsome.DeCosta,said since joining the Test team before the 09 Ashes tour,Hughes has not been free to play his own game.Hughes has verified it.His game in Eng.was entirely different from that against a far better SA.His results before that and this series-1637 runs at 96 with 8 centuries-2 in tests-before the Ashes 09 in 10 games.557 at 92 in 3 games with 3 centuries and a List A 138 against SA-A before this tour,at high S/R.Marsh has succeeded on very flat tracks,mostly against poor attacks.SL is the poorest i can recall.His last 1st class century 2010,was in a high scoring draw on the Adelaide oval.The attack was anonymous.Other match scores were:North-101*, Ferguson-129, Blizzard-141*,Marsh made half his seasons runs.Marsh made his previous 108*,2009,when SthAust,bowled for a declaration at Adelaide.Bailey and Haberfield bowled 34 of 52 overs.Again,half his season runs.His 166* in 2007-other match scores-Pomersbach-176,Maher-111,Ronchi-105*-54 balls.In between,hes shown nothing.

  • Matthew on September 11, 2011, 12:32 GMT

    What a high-class player Shaun Marsh is proving to be, couldn't be more pleased to see him get a ton on debut. Whether anyone were to acheive this against the best bowling attack currently around, England, or a weaker and inexperienced one such as Sri Lanka, it's a wonderful effort that deserves acknowledgement. Whether Marsh makes way for Ponting in the next test or not, I'm sure he'll be on the scene for some time to come, providing he stays injury-free. I'm sure his FC batting avg will soon climb to reflect that of his past two Shield seasons which have been about 59 I think, from a small number games in each season, which might just validate his selection to those who analyse such things in great detail.

  • Dummy4 on September 11, 2011, 11:09 GMT

    It's always baffled me why Shaun Marsh has been overlooked for the Australian Test XI for so long, whilst far inferior players have been given their opportunity. I know he's had a few injury problems but he's been kept waiting far too long. A top six of Watson, Katich, Marsh, Ponting, Hussey and Clarke and maybe last year's Ashes Tests might just have been slightly closer.

  • Lou on September 11, 2011, 11:03 GMT

    The most noticeable thing about Marsh's ininngs is that he didn't go out to dominate, or 'entertain' or any of the daft things that come out of the Aus camp. He just went out there to last as long as he could, which he managed to do very well, weak attack or not. It sounded like a refreshing attitude. It amazes me that Hyclass has managed to make Hughes sounds not at all af fault for not doing well and yet Marsh at fault for taking his one opportunity. That takes real talent, stuff batting. Anyhow, I don't think anyone should be dropped for Marsh as fill-ins should be put back on the bench and both Hughes and Khawaja need to be given at least two series under Clarke. It's tough for Marsh as he looked like a test batsman and no-one else apart from Huss did but I'm tired of short-term fixes with the Aus team they need to show some committment to the newbies not just the old guys.

  • Christopher on September 11, 2011, 9:05 GMT

    @Jono Makim.I agree,Hughes said before this tour that,'He would do it his way'and he clearly hasnt.Its not good enough.152 runs from 362 balls is not his game.I also agree with you about Clarkes statement.Haydens game was about Hayden-no-one else.It is impossible to know,'No-one has been in Hughes ear'. DeCosta,an Australian coach in India and Clarkes mentor,said that Hughes had been told to play and prepare differently to his own game at Test level,causing his difficulty in the first place.Hughes made it clear,he had returned to his own game after talking with him recently,leading to 633 runs in 7 innings plus a List A hundred against SA-A.The same men are still in charge.Its no co-incidence,each time he joins the Test side,he moves from a free scoring,high averaging,confident player,to a slow scoring,unconvincing player.As for Marsh,this is one of the weakest Test attacks i can recall in 40 years.Well done,but its not the basis for dropping Ponting or others,that many are calling for

  • Dummy4 on September 11, 2011, 8:12 GMT

    @kaze I'm with you in putting marsh in to open and watson to #6, but your dead wrong on the "Ponting stay home" question. I'm sure all those who've suggested it have, like me, done it out of respect for the man - it should be a CA suggestion, and Punter's decision. I'm more worried about our bowling than I am about our batting, where we have options. I just don't think we can afford to carry a passenger in the hope of an occasional flash in pan - I'm talking about Johnson of course, and Watto's not doing much with the ball either.

  • Dummy4 on September 11, 2011, 7:29 GMT

    I always believed marsh can succeed at test level.I'm not wrong. I wish him a long test career and answer many problems Australian batting order was facing for last few years.

  • Basil on September 11, 2011, 7:22 GMT

    @hyclass, I am not a huge fan of Marsh but you can only play against the attack dished out before you. If he had failed, you would be condemning him for failing against a weak attack. Here he succeeds and the argument is that is against a weak attack. How does that place the innings of all the other guys that scored less than him?

  • Dummy4 on September 11, 2011, 7:02 GMT

    @ Hyclass. Phil Hughes has no-one in his ear, i would suggest, apart from his own thoughts. How many times have we heard Clarke encouraging newcomers to play their own game? How many times have we read that Hughes is 'going to do it my way this time'? He needs to sort out his own thinking. Hayden had similar problems early on. On Marsh, you are like a politician to convince everyone of an increasingly difficult position, continually comin gat it from different angles. We all know of Marsh's battles but he's there now and made a big ton. He seems to have got his head on and got himself properly fit, always had the talent, he's a turnaround story and it may be time to get on board.

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