Just over a couple of months ago, Mitchell Marsh was nominated as the dual vice-captain by the newly appointed coach Justin Langer. Four weeks ago, Marsh was batting at No 4 for Australia against Pakistan in Dubai. Two weeks ago, he was omitted from the playing XI in Adelaide, replaced by Peter Handscomb. Last week as the members of the Australian team went about their business at the WACA, he finished the training session and exited the WACA in his orange Perth Scorchers big bash outfit.
It has been an intricate period for Marsh. It has all been a mixed bag. In the past six weeks, he has played Shield cricket, Test cricket, T20 for Australia and Big Bash. Modern players constantly talk about the challenges of excelling across all formats with the changing of environments. Marsh will appear with the Australia Test team again this week attempting to dislodge local-boy Peter Handscomb for the much-talked about No 6 spot for the Boxing Day Test match.
Handscomb's struggles have been highlighted enough in the first two Tests. He has scores of 34, 14, 7 and 13, but it is his unusual technique that seems to have many cricketing experts suggesting that he doesn't belong at the top level. "I've said it so many times now, but you cannot play international cricket with a technique like that," Shane Warne had said about the Victorian after his successive failure in Perth.
Speaking to reporters on arrival in Melbourne, Handscomb admitted he's had enough of the external commentary on his unorthodox style. When asked if he is frustrated by people talking about his technique, he said: "Yeah, pretty much. It's my technique, I've had it for five years."
Warne's criticism is harsh, but when the opposing bowlers are licking their lips to bowl at Handscomb, there is some truth in Warne's comments. Every time Handscomb has walked into the middle one can sense the Indian bowlers go up a notch. They know there is a chink in his armour and it is only a matter of time before they expose him. It is a difficult situation for Handsomb to be in, he knows opposition bowlers will keep honing in and it must be extremely taxing on his mind.
In Adelaide, he got through the tough period, but eventually, the concentration plummeted and he played two irresponsible shots. It was pure desperation to break free. In Perth, Handscomb batted like a man that knew his destiny and his confidence was shot. It will be a massive gamble from Australia to risk him and pick him ahead of Marsh in Melbourne.
While Marsh is not a master technician himself, he is more orthodox than Handscomb. There are no demons in Marsh's head and India will need to conjure new plans for him. In his previous four innings at home, Marsh has two centuries to his credit and his average at home is a staggering 106.66. After his big bash outing on Thursday, Marsh stated that he was disappointed to be dropped for the opening Test and believes he is hitting the ball really well.
In Marsh, Australia has a batsman that has no burden and a player whose confidence is yet to be tarnished. Playing Marsh ahead of Handscomb makes perfect sense, especially with the series at 1-1. If Australia decides to play Handscomb and he happens to fails again, it means Marsh will be under pressure in Sydney, regardless of the result in Melbourne.
The pitch at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, which is likely to be less receptive to seam and bounce than Perth and Australia might need to consider fifth bowling option.
There are no doubt the fast bowler's workload will come into consideration before Justin Langer, Tim Paine and Trevor Hohns pick the final XI. If Australia bowl last in Melbourne and then has to bowl first in Sydney, it only leaves their bowlers three days to recuperate. Last summer, Australia headed down the lines of playing six front-line batsmen earlier in the series, but at the back end decided to draft in Mitch Marsh. Not only was Marsh the success story with the bat, but he ensured the bowlers were fresh. The hot weather that is predicted during the third Test should also tilt the balance towards Marsh.
Justin Langer has had to make a few tough calls already at the start of his journey as the cricket coach of Australia and he has to make another one in a couple of day's time. In his heart, Langer will want to give Handscomb another chance and not deviate from a winning combination, but the right call will be to play Mitch Marsh.
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