Marsh Recall Makes No Sense

And they had been doing so well. 

The Australian selectors have scarcely missed a trick during this Ashes series, especially with their savvy horses-for-courses approach to selecting fast bowlers, and their decision to prioritize accuracy over pace. Then they went and picked Mitchell Marsh for the Fifth Test at the Oval.

Oh dear. 

Despite coaches such as Langer insisting Marsh is ‘talented’, he has never proven that he is good enough to either bat or bowl at Test level. Selectors have given him far too many chances (a staggering 31 Test matches!) in the desperate hope that he will magically transform into a player far better than he actually is. Marsh was dropped after the Boxing Day Test against India in December 2018. In the seven Tests up to and including that match, he scored 225 runs at an average of 16.07 and took a measly six wickets. He went back to the Sheffield Shield, playing 7 matches in the 2018-19 season, in which he scored 467 runs at 35.92 and took 13 wickets at 40.46. Such numbers hardly demand national selection. He was then omitted from Cricket Australia’s central contract list for 2019-20. 

But now he’s back in the Test team at the expense of Travis Head. 

How did that happen?

Just two days ago, Justin Langer reminded us that Head is inexperienced and that Test cricket takes time to master. Fair enough. Who would disagree? It’s very true that Head has not impressed in this series. However, he is not the only one, and as he is only 25, surely one would expect Langer to give him more opportunities to improve. But no, soon after calling for more patience for young players, Langer has dumped Head. It’s inconsistent and hypocritical.

Moreover, the logic behind Marsh’s selection does not stand up to scrutiny for two big reasons.

Firstly, he has played virtually no red ball cricket lately and his few performances since being dropped last December simply do not justify a recall. Marsh played for Australia A in its recent 50-over series against county teams in England, when he posted four successive not-out scores – with a highest score of 53* – and took 5 wickets. This was okay but not earth-shattering, and was with a white ball anyway. Since arriving in England, he has played only TWO competitive red ball matches (one against England Lions, the other against Worcestershire), with a top score of 39* and taking only 2 wickets. How does this scream ‘pick me for the Test team’?

Secondly, the selectors say Marsh’s inclusion strengthens the bowling attack. Why is THAT necessary? The Australian squad includes no fewer than SIX fast bowlers, most of whom possess batting averages close to that of Marsh. Based on recent form, a number of them are in fact making more runs than Marsh. Heck, Michael Neser hasn’t even gotten a game on this tour, and he took 33 wickets in the 2018-19 Shield season while averaging 43.73 with the bat! The bowling attack has been the strongest performing part of the team throughout this Ashes series. Why does it need Marsh? Sure, the batting has been poor except for Smith and Labuschagne, but are the selectors really suggesting that a guy like Marsh – with a Test average of 25.39 and a first-class average of 32.12 – is good enough to bat at No. 6? He never has been, so what’s changed? Head has indeed been mediocre on this tour but with his first-class average of 39.20 and Test average of 42.70 after 12 matches, I would still rather back him than Marsh, especially if, as Langer says, the younger players need to grow into their positions. 

Trotted out to front the press, Tim Paine said Marsh has ‘worked his backside off’ and is fitter than he was. Oh goody. Everything will be fine, then. 

As the saying goes, ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result’. 

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