Australia v South Africa, tri-series, Harare September 2, 2014

Marsh works his Mitchcraft on South Africa


It is easy to remember how many times Dale Steyn had been hit for three sixes in a row before today: exactly none. That changed in the 47th over of Australia's innings, when Mitchell Marsh dispatched three consecutive deliveries in the arc between long on and long off.

Steyn is not the sort of cricketer to back down from a confrontation, but in the midst of Marsh's assault, he could manage nothing more than a wry smile. In a manner that might even be called un-Australian, Marsh also chose to remain silent and let his bat do the talking.

"No, he did not say anything," confirmed Marsh. "And I wouldn't be saying anything to him either. At the time I wasn't really thinking about any sort of total, I was just focusing on every ball and going from there. Any runs at that stage of the innings are a bonus."

The bonus proved a winning one for Australia, and Marsh's innings was the difference between the two sides. Australia had only passed 200 in the 44th over, and before his assault on Steyn's figures, Marsh was striking at less than a run a ball.

By the end of that Steyn over, he had brought up a second ODI fifty and he kept his foot flat on the accelerator to finish with 86 from 51, including seven monstrous sixes. His strike rate of 168.62 left everyone, Faf du Plessis included, in the shade. Could he he have played a better knock at any level?

"That's a pretty tough question. I just gave myself a chance on that wicket. You know, faced a few balls early, and I was lucky enough to hang around at the end and swing as hard as I could. It was good."

The victory ensured Australia secured their place in the tri-series final on Saturday, and eased some of their embarrassment after their loss to Zimbabwe on Sunday. "We were really excited about the opportunity to bounce back from the other day," Marsh said. "Obviously, it shows a bit of character. It's certainly behind us now.

"The wicket was probably a bit better, not that we would ever blame the wicket for losing a game of cricket. But we've come with the right attitude and we're very competitive against one of the best teams in the world."

There are no less than three Mitchells in Australia's squad, with each peddling a slightly different brand of Mitchcraft. While Mitchells Starc and Johnson swing the new ball at pace, with their left arms, it is quickly becoming apparent that Marsh's role is likely to have more to do with his batting. That is not to suggest that his bowling is ineffectual, as he chipped in with the handy wickets of Hashim Amla and JP Duminy to set South Africa's chase back at crucial moments.

"I know that I need to keep working on my bowling to get it up to a great level, and I'm looking forward to that challenge. The more I bowl in games, the more I'll learn. I don't really look at speeds too much. The biggest thing for me is not worrying about all that sort of stuff, it's just doing my role for the team at that right time, and doing whatever George or Michael Clarke need me to do for the team.

"On these sorts of wickets that hold up a bit, it's all about trying to hit the stumps and making guys play rash shots or get catches in front of the wicket. I think that's the plan for all teams that would play on this type of wicket."

With the bat, Marsh has now contributed two match-winning 80s in four games, hitting 11 sixes across the two knocks: the biggest of which happened today. Marsh could not confirm whether the one which hit the top of the four-storey building at the City End of the ground was the biggest he had ever hit, and conceded that Nathan Lyon's famous strike at the same ground against South Africa A a couple of years ago was probably bigger.

"I'm not too sure. Nathan Lyon hit the biggest six I've ever seen. If he gets here he'll definitely tell you about it. I was here that day. It was definitely big, yeah, and he's not afraid to tell you about it either."

Lyon, of course, has claimed of his own six that: "I think Bobby Mugabe was under attack. It's not on TV record, but you can ask a few of the guys - Mitch Starc was here, so were Mitch Marsh and Phil Hughes -- ask them about it. Second last ball of the game, three runs to win, it went the journey. It was probably about a 100-metre hit."

While Lyon has staked a claim in the Test side, having leapfrogged into the team on the back of some impressive T20 performances, Test cricket may yet be a way off for the 22-year-old Marsh. But he could do worse than taking apart an attack with Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel in it, slow pitch or none.

"I guess that's not really up to me. The only thing I can do is just keep working hard, hopefully keep putting scores on the board," Marsh said. "Obviously that's the goal for everyone playing cricket, but for me it's one game at a game. I'm looking forward to the final on Saturday."

Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town

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  • ESPN on September 4, 2014, 7:08 GMT

    I'd like to see Marsh continue his form and eventually make his way into the Test team too , but it wasn't that long ago when Maxwell burst onto the scene and was primed to nail the test spot but we know how quickly his form changed up and down. Let's see Marsh do it for a run of games if not a couple of seasons then we can see where he is at.

  • Android on September 4, 2014, 2:50 GMT

    with mitch marsh, maxxy, faulkner, smith australia have some of the most dangerous hitter in the world cricket but on a day when they fail is any body is their with solid technique. I am not very sure about clark as he is here and their suffering from injuries so for the world cup prespective i think p hugh and bailey has to play major role

  • Nesar on September 3, 2014, 21:52 GMT

    My Best 11 after world cup for Australia.. 1)Sam.Whiteman.(WK) 2)D.Warnar 3)M.Marsh. 4)S.Smith.(Cp) 5)P.Huge 6)G.Maxwell. 7)J.Fulknar. 8)J.Murrid. 9)M.Stuck. 10)J.Patinson. 11)Pat.Cummings.

  • Peterincanada on September 3, 2014, 15:03 GMT

    @Jose I hear what you are saying but every pace bowler I ever saw has difficulty on sluggish pitches. Obviously the drop off can differ depending on the individual but there is a drop off nonetheless.

  • Dummy4 on September 3, 2014, 12:17 GMT

    Steyn's reputation as an aggressive bowler who never backs off is stained a bit by stepping on to this fresh Marshy land!

    Looking forward to the next ODI between the two teams to find out how these two are going to handle each other, and how the experienced Steyn responds to the 22 year old talent Mitch. That will also give an indication whether Steyn has already reached his limit! Yes, every bowler reaches a plateau, beyond which further developments are just marginal. It is particularly so for pace bowlers.

    Incidentally, Steyn is not that effective on pitches where the balls keep low and slow, as evidenced on many an occasion on Indian pitches. He may not be that 'pitch dependent' bowler like Ashwin is as a spinner; but his effectiveness falls quite a bit on unfriendly (unfriendly to him) pitches.

  • James on September 3, 2014, 5:44 GMT

    @Stephen Phillip: When you consider the fact that his batting average in FC cricket was 20 a couple of seasons ago, you get an Idea of how much work he has done to get where he is today. He is by no means ready for test cricket, but he has been on the right path for a while now as the recent double century would show, as well as a unbeated 90 in the Shield final. He isn't ready now, but he maybe when Watson retires in 2-3 years.

  • Dummy4 on September 3, 2014, 5:10 GMT

    I'm not sure Mitch Marsh is test material. He'll need a substantial turnaround in his first-class batting average before being considered. His best is fantastic, and he performs well in short forms - but there are a lot of people who fall into that category without being successful at test cricket.

  • Tim on September 3, 2014, 1:10 GMT

    With Marsh, Faulkner and Henriques Australia have an awesome bunch of all rounders. Hopefully we see them get the chance to make the test number 6 spot their own. Whichever of the three earn it (I say Faulkner for now)

  • kieran on September 3, 2014, 0:18 GMT

    @ Chris_P it will be interesting to watch the coming shield season, hopefully these recent performances can inspire more consistency but he certainly seems to have turned a corner of sorts. Who knows he might just pip Faulkner & MoHen to the all-rounders spot!

  • Sagir on September 3, 2014, 0:10 GMT

    I have been following Mitch Marsh's career ever since i watched him at an u-19 world cup few years ago.. Hm and McDermott's son definitely have the potential to become good international players for Australia and will be the future to look forward to. Will Bosisto, is another one to watch out for in a few years to come..

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