Mitchell Marsh has been challenged to reach Ben Stokes' standards of fitness and durability ahead of his latest chance to secure a place in the Australian Test team, in the afterglow of Ashes retention at Old Trafford.
Marsh was called in ahead of the vice-captain Travis Head for the fifth Test at The Oval from Thursday, as an additional bowling option for the captain Tim Paine and also as a right-handed batsman after the litany of troubles caused for them by Broad's seam and swing.
Paine revealed that Marsh had not only been dropped from the team against India last summer due to underperformance, but also because the selectors and team management felt that he was carrying too much extra weight to do the job they required of him. The herculean example provided by Stokes at Headingley, where he virtually bowled 24 overs unchanged in the third innings before conjuring a batting miracle in the fourth, has set a high bar, but Paine reckoned that Marsh, at 27, could still reach similar heights.
"Mitch has worked his backside off actually for the last six or seven months," Paine said. "He got some pretty honest feedback when he was dropped during the India series about where he was at both physically and with his cricket. He had a choice to make, either to sulk about it or to do something about it, and Mitch at the moment is as fit as we've seen him. During this Ashes even watching Ben Stokes go about it, we've constantly spoken to him about being at that sort of fitness where you can bowl 25-30 overs and then come out and score a hundred.
"That's something Mitch has watched up close and something he's aspiring to, so certainly when he's fitter his bowling goes to another level. When you're a boy the size he is, it's hard to run in all day when you're carrying a few extra kilos, so he's worked really hard to work them off, he's always worked very hard on his cricket and we know the talent he's got. We're looking forward to seeing him put all his hard work into action this week."
There was some irony to Marsh taking Head's place, since Head had himself replaced Marsh as one of the team's vice-captains in January. the deputy leadership has been thrown around like a touch football over the past year, pin-balling between Marsh, Josh Hazlewood, Head and Pat Cummins. Paine explained that Head was being left out primarily so the tourists had an extra pace bowling option, and he was later seen in lengthy conversation with the coach Justin Langer on a series of slow laps around The Oval during training.
"We've been really clear with Travis why he's not playing this game," Paine said. "We think he's had a fantastic start, he's played 10 Tests and has a very healthy average but we want to get the make-up right to win this Test match and unfortunately we had to make a really tough call on someone, and it happened to be Travis.
"But he's a huge part of Australian cricket's future, he's a gun young player and he's getting better all the time, so it's disappointing for him that he's not playing this Test match, he'd dearly love to obviously, but we'll go back to Australia, conditions will be different, there's no doubt he's in the top six or seven batsmen in our country."
Marsh (match figures of 5 for 86) and Peter Siddle (6 for 67) were Australia's two leading bowlers at The Oval when Australia won the final match of the 2015 series, standing up the seam of the Dukes ball and moving it around after the series had been decided in England's favour at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge. That history suggests that Siddle should be a strong chance to play this time around, with the Australians waiting until match day to decide whether one of Cummins (48 overs in Manchester), Hazlewood (42.3) or Mitchell Starc (38) need to be spelled.
"Looking at the conditions and the series being a long and tough one, we've kept the same bowling group that was together last Test match, they've bowled a lot of overs and we feel that bringing Mitchell in will ease a bit of the workload on them," Paine said. "So it was a really tough call on Travis Head who's had a great start to his Test career, but we just wanted a bit more bowling depth in the squad to cover what looks like a really good wicket and be able to look after our big fast bowlers. Give them another half a day, see how they've pulled up and then make a decision on that side, the final make-up of it."
"When you're a boy the size he is, it's hard to run in all day when you're carrying a few extra kilos, so he's worked really hard to work them off"
James Pattinson was not included in the final 12, but Paine forecast that, like Starc, he would be used more often in Australia this summer, with something of a marker laid down now for how the team will manage their deep and varied pace bowling resources. Jhye Richardson, on his way back from injury, will be another member of that battery back home.
"James Pattinson is someone who we've been really pleased with what he's done in his return to Test cricket over here, he's bowling very, very well," Paine said. "He's going to be a huge asset for us going forward and we've said from the start we want to make sure we look after him so he's got a lot more years in him of Test cricket, we can't wait to get him back to Australia and unleash him during the summer.
"We spoke a lot about how we felt we needed to change the way we picked our attacks over in England. I think over the years we've had a pretty good formula in Australia and clearly our bigger, taller faster bowlers work well in Australia so again that's where we see a really exciting six months for James Pattinson coming up and Mitchell Starc, those guys who haven't played as much during this series. So we are excited we're going to have them fresh and ready to go for the home summer."