Australia allrounder Mitchell Marsh is hoping to be fit to bowl if selected for the opening T20I against New Zealand in Christchurch, as he bids to make yet another return to international cricket.
Marsh injured his side while bowling for the Perth Scorchers in a match against against the Hobart Hurricanes in early January. It was only the fifth game he had bowled in after recovering from a serious ankle injury that he suffered during the IPL.
He played as a batsman only in the last six BBL matches of the season. In the games he did bowl in for the Scorchers, he was very effective, taking four wickets at an economy rate of just 6.52, and the Scorchers won all those five matches.
Marsh has returned to bowling in the nets at training in the last couple of days and is hopeful he would be available to bowl if selected in the first game on February 22. "Yeah, hoping that I'll available to bowl in the first couple of games if all goes to plan," he said. "I pushed back, sort of, almost to the full run two days ago. So I'll progress over the next week and hopefully in the first few games to bowl. I think it's great that we've got so many options with the ball so I'm not under a whole heap of pressure to get back for the first game."
Marsh made his T20I debut in 2011, but has played just 15 games in the format for his country in that time, while he has played 32 Tests and 60 ODIs. He played in the 2016 T20 World Cup but managed just two games in the next four years before returning to the side on the tour of South Africa last year where he played all three matches.
He was not selected for the first two T20Is on the following tour of England but returned for the third and was Player of the Match in Southampton.
"Probably the only thing that has changed is not trying to hit the ball for six every ball - picking my balls and making sure I'm trying to manipulate the field to the best of my ability, certainly through the off side"Mitchell Marsh
But he suffered a serious ankle injury in his first game in last year's IPL for the Sunrisers Hyderabad and was ruled out of the tournament. He also missed Australia's ODI and T20I series against India.
An excellent BBL campaign, where he made 315 runs, including three half-centuries, at a strike rate of 147.88 has put him back in the frame for Australian selection. He is one of the players in the mix to fill the vital middle-order role that would be critical to Australia's success both against New Zealand and in the T20 World Cup later in the year.
"Five and six is somewhere that I've batted for basically all of my career," Marsh said. "I absolutely love that role and I really enjoyed playing it for the Scorchers, the way we lined up this year, and with the Power Surge, it was great for our team with a stacked top order. If I'm playing at five or six for Australia I'll be really looking forward to playing alongside Stoin (Marcus Stoinis) and Maxy (Glenn Maxwell) and those guys and hopefully forming some good partnerships."
Marsh's power-hitting is a trademark but Australia's stand-in coach Andrew McDonald made particular mention of Marsh's improved hitting against wide yorkers and wide-line bowling. Marsh made just 44 runs from 38 balls on the three-match tour of South Africa where the bowlers tied him down with wide bowling, with Marsh scoring just 21 runs from 25 balls including 12 dots and just one boundary against deliveries aimed wide of off stump.
"It probably stems from the tour to South Africa where they bowled really wide to me," Marsh said. "It's not something that I've struggled with in the past but I did on that tour. So it was noted for me to go away and make sure I got better at that. I worked really hard over the winter to make sure that I added that to my game and added that to my power game. It was really nice to see that come to fruition in the Big Bash. I'm feeling really comfortable with that part of my game now. It just adds another string to my bow and hopefully, I can keep doing the same over here.
"Probably the only thing that has changed is not trying to hit the ball for six every ball. Picking my balls and making sure I'm trying to manipulate the field to the best of my ability, certainly through the off side."
Alex Malcolm is a freelance writer based in Melbourne