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

Comments