Red-hot Marsh turns up heat on Watson
Australians 440 for 6 (Marsh 136*, Warner 94, Nevill 78, Watson 52) v Essex
On the hottest July day in England since records began, it was hard to know what was at a higher temperature - a sweltering Chelmsford crowd or the scything blade of Mitchell Marsh. Billed as the pretender to Shane Watson's place as the incumbent Test allrounder, Marsh advanced to his second century in as many innings to leave Essex bedraggled and place enormous pressure on the selectors.
A first-innings hundred against a better attack than that presented by Kent at Canterbury was a significant achievement for Marsh, who came to England with two first-class hundreds and now has four. If it arrived in slightly more deliberate style than his joyful thrash at the St Lawrence Ground, 118 balls for three figures was still a rate to please the coach Darren Lehmann. Watson has plenty to do as a bowler in order to secure his spot for the first Investec Ashes Test at Cardiff next week.
The major blemish for Marsh was a bad mix-up with Adam Voges when his state captain was on 49, leaving the pair momentarily at the same end of the pitch before the older man sprinted vainly for the bowler's end. To that point Voges had looked the epitome of assurance, and it is difficult to see how he can be left out of the Cardiff XI following a memorable debut hundred against the West Indies in Dominica last month.
Other encouraging signs were shown by David Warner, who looked to have struck an ideal balance between attack and defence in a morning innings that safely negotiated the new ball - even if it was delivered somewhat gently by Jesse Ryder - before picking gaps more or less at will. Chris Rogers was less happy with his day, adjudged caught behind then standing his ground in some disbelief before trudging from the field.
Essex were more generous hosts than they had been in 2005, not only trading first use of a good pitch at the toss in return for a full four days of well-attended cricket to help replenish the county's coffers, but also shelling no fewer than four chances - one from Watson, one from Peter Nevill and two from Marsh, albeit the first at 98. It was possible to wonder what impact an absent Reece Topley might have had in the humid air.
Warner and Rogers resumed an opening union that was broken by the latter's troubles with concussion in the West Indies, and over the course of the first 60 runs of the day showed their complementary qualities. Tom Moore was delighted to see the umpire's finger raised when Rogers drove at a ball going across him and may have clipped the ground, and ecstatic when next ball Michael Clarke flicked absent-mindedly to a waiting Ryan ten Doeschate at leg gully. Once again Clarke had been unable to play the long innings.
That blip did not mean an Australian collapse however, as Warner, Voges and Watson all played smoothly and well. None went on to three figures, Warner steering to gully when he seemed intent on reaching his century before the lunch interval, then Watson ending a serviceable stay by dragging ten Doeschate on to the stumps. It was an error that cleared the stage for Marsh, who was quickly into stride and and regularly advancing down the pitch to dropkick Aron Nijjar to the wide mid-on boundary.
The power Marsh has always been able to summon is now augmented by greater discretion, something he had demonstrated on his Test match debut against Pakistan in the UAE. One straight drive was a picture of excellence, while the blow down the ground to get to his century left a permanent dent in the roof of the River Stand.
Even accounting for the heat and the easy-paced nature of the pitch, Marsh has set down an impressive marker as the only member of the squad to make successive hundreds in these two matches. The fall of regular wickets at the other end, scotched by a sturdy hand from the reserve wicketkeeper Nevill, also meant Marsh could go on beyond his century as the day edged towards a sweaty, muggy close.
He will need to do more on the morrow with the ball to make his claims undeniable, and this time Watson will be decidedly eager to roll his arm over after requesting an exemption from bowling against Kent in order to be as fit as possible for the Tests. If he can't stand the heat, Marsh will be taking Watson's place in the kitchen.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig