The Doughnut

Mitchell Marsh and Peter Nevill are responsible for the Australian Test team’s doughnut: together they have cooked up a big hole in the middle of the batting order.

Neither batsman is performing to an acceptable standard. This is becoming an increasingly serious problem that neither the selectors nor the media seem to be talking enough about.

This year, we have two good teams coming to play: South Africa and Pakistan. Facing New Zealand (a good team) and the West Indies (um, not such a good team) last summer, Australia was able to stagger through carrying Marsh and Nevill, but against better teams it is unlikely to be so easy.

For a start, it’s time to acknowledge that the attempt to install Mitchell Marsh as Australia’s Test all-rounder has failed.

When he made his Test debut two years at the age of 23, Marsh was considered a batting all-rounder. He has now played 18 Tests, but in 29 Test innings has averaged only 24.00 and scored over 50 only twice. For a guy batting at No. 6, this is woeful. More to the point, when he bats he just doesn’t look like getting runs.

I am all for giving promising young players a chance to develop, but this experiment is not working. Marsh is more of a bash-&-crash merchant; he lacks the technique for Test cricket, and like his predecessor Shane Watson is better suited for the short form of the game (Marsh averages 37.45 in ODIs and 29.21 in Twenty20 cricket).

Marsh has, however, proven more useful with the ball than the selectors probably expected. His 27 wickets in 18 Tests at 36.33 is far from earth-shattering but there’s no denying he has a knack for picking up the odd useful wicket when coming on as first or second change. But his skills with the ball would only be pertinent if he batted at No. 8 and was considered a bowling all-rounder. If he remains in the Test team at all, that’s where he should play.

Marsh’s poor form with bat is even more worrying now that Peter Nevill’s form with the bat has deteriorated beyond recognition. When he made his Test debut, Nevill was averaging over 40 in first-class cricket and looked like the perfect replacement for Brad Haddin. Since then, he has averaged a measly 20.88 in 19 Test innings. Frankly, he looks utterly lost when facing Test-quality bowling attacks.

As Nevill is the better ‘keeper, it seems unlikely the Test selectors will revert to Matthew Wade again anytime soon, but it’s worth remembering that Wade averaged 34.61 with the bat in his 12 Tests. If Nevill can’t make some runs this summer, one wonders when the selectors will consider comprising on wicketkeeping prowess in order to get a few more runs on the board. And no single young ‘keeper-batsman is currently bashing down their door, although if players like 24-year old Sam Whiteman from WA (first-class average of 35.98) have a good 2016-17 Sheffield Shield, who knows?

Currently, if the Australian top order underperforms, the team does not have batsmen at No. 6 and No. 7 who are good enough to display the temperament and technique to help the team post a competitive score.

The selectors are happy to chop and change opening batsmen every two or three Tests, but Marsh and Nevill seem to get picked automatically despite prolonged inadequate returns. It’s an inconsistency that deserves closer scrutiny.

Who should they pick instead? That’s a topic for another post.


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