Selectors look to skies for Marsh verdict

It remains to be seen whether Mitchell Marsh will be part of Australia's XI in Hobart Getty Images

Mitchell Marsh's immediate Test future hinges on the vagaries of Hobart's weather, as a pressured Australia wait until match morning before naming their XI to face South Africa at Bellerive Oval.

In a scenario that echoes the prelude to the fateful fourth Test of last year's Ashes series at Trent Bridge, the selectors Rod Marsh and Darren Lehmann are waiting until the last possible moment to name their team, leaving the captain Steven Smith unable to announce his line-up, as is customary, on match eve.

Marsh is likely to play as a fifth bowling option should Hobart's weather forecast clear up and allow play on the first two days. However if the current prognostications hold true and rain blights Saturday and Sunday, Callum Ferguson will be set for a Test match debut as a sixth specialist batsman alongside four bowlers.

"We'll wait and see what happens in the morning with the weather," Smith said. "You might not need to have that extra bowling option if there's going to be lots of rain around and the bowlers are going to get some adequate rest with that. There's possibilities that we could go in with six genuine batsmen but we'll wait and see in the morning when we can have another look at the wicket and what the weather's doing."

South Africa's captain Faf du Plessis said any signs of Australia abandoning the balance provided by an allrounder was going to be helpful to the visitors, who have fought their own team balance battles in the wake of Jacques Kallis' retirement.

"Allrounders are fantastic to have in your team, we had Jacques Kallis playing for us for all those years and it just makes the balance of the side so much easier," du Plessis said. "So I suppose they are looking at our team and what we are doing playing specialist batters and specialist bowlers, so it would also be nice to have an allrounder as well. So if they are changing it then that means that is a weapon that they do have in their team and if they change that, then that's good for us."

Even if Marsh does play, it appears likely he will be demoted in the batting order to No. 7, swapping places with the wicketkeeper Peter Nevill. That change would grant Nevill the same commission he holds with New South Wales as a top six batsman, while also allowing Marsh to play with more freedom at seven. "Yeah it's possible," Smith said of that change. "It just depends on which XI we end up with for where guys will bat. We'll wait and see with that one."

Smith admitted Australia's confidence levels may have dipped over the course of four consecutive Test losses, the sort of sequence that has historically cost the job of the captain or the coach. "I guess it's a tough one, we obviously haven't played overly well in the last little while," he said. "We're finding ways to get ourselves in positions where we should be able to drive the game, but we're not executing well enough in those moments to take the game away.

"We're getting in those positions, which is a positive, but we need to find a way to make sure we really nail a team when we get on top of them. We're letting oppositions back into the game too easily. That's one thing we've talked about here, if we get in front of the game - make sure we take the game away from them and don't let them back in."

To that end, Smith said he was looking to see members of the team take the game on at critical times, mirroring the efforts of Kagiso Rabada, JP Duminy and Dean Elgar in Perth. "I think that's something that Australia has done very well in Australia for a long period of time," Smith said. "We've been able to score big first-innings runs and identify those moments when we can take the game away from an opposition, and we've been able to do that.

"We just haven't been doing it of late, that's something we've got to turn around. We have to identify those moments first of all and then when we do that, we have to execute well enough to take the game away from the opposition. That's one thing we really need to work on."

One intriguing element of this week has been the presence of Australia's former batting coach Michael Di Venuto in Hobart. Despite a strong record and robust rapport with the players, Di Venuto quit earlier this year to become coach of Surrey after being reportedly declined a request for a pay rise from Cricket Australia. He was replaced by Graeme Hick, but Smith said Di Venuto had been taken back into the confidences of the batsmen this week.

"It's nice to have him back around the group for a week in his hometown," Smith said. "He's a magnificent batting coach and I know he's really enjoying his time at Surrey at the moment as head coach. That's fantastic for him. It's nice to have had him around and have a little bit of a chat face to face about batting and what's going on with all that.

"A few of the boys have had some throws from him, which has been great. He's an outstanding batting coach and it's great to have had him around to work with this week and be able to talk some good stuff about batting."