Ashes 2017: Mitchell Marsh the batsman finally came of age with memorable century in WACA Test

Mitchell Marsh — the batsman — might have arrived half a decade late. But, being just 26 years old, he still has time on his side.

It was a bit of a surprise when Western Australia all-rounder Mitchell Marsh was recalled into the Australian squad for the third Ashes Test at the WACA in Perth.

Nine months back, in the middle of the tour of India, he had to return home with a shoulder injury and a run of dismal batting performances. It had made him the worst ever No 4 batsman, statistically, that Test cricket has ever seen.

And here he was back into the reckoning once again to repay the faith of the selectors and show his real worth.

Mitchell Marsh brought up his maiden Test hundred in front of his home crowd at the WACA on Day 3. AP

Mitchell Marsh brought up his maiden Test hundred in front of his home crowd at the WACA on Day 3. AP

Anyway, it had turned out to be a double delight for the Marsh family as the call-up came just a couple of days after the elder of the Marsh brothers, Shaun, was adjudged the ‘Man of the Match’ in the Adelaide Test following a crucial century.

Although, a faction of the pundits praised the selectors for including a bowling all-rounder on a deck that had aided the batsmen in recent times, another faction criticised the decision as Mitchell was selected on the back of just a couple of good outings with the ball in the Sheffield Shield, since returning from a shoulder injury. They also felt pity for Glenn Maxwell who was neglected despite going all guns out with the bat — 590 runs at an average of 73.75 and a best score of 278 — in the Sheffield Shield.

However, the 26-year old Mitchell’s statistics in the Sheffield Shield —402 runs from five matches at an average of 44.66 that included a match saving 141 as well — marked a significant improvement in his batting when compared with his career first-class batting average of 30.07. Moreover, a tally of 338 runs at an average of 169 in the JLT One-Day Cup that also included a century and two fifties, suggested the same as well. So, when the selectors replaced Peter Handscomb with Mitchell for the third Test, they also ensured that they were not sacrificing a batting resource in going for an extra bowler.

Three days into the match and the selectors got a chance to laugh at everyone who criticised them for keeping their faith on the younger of the Marsh brothers. Mitchell didn’t do anything spectacular with the ball. He didn’t even get a wicket although he bowled some decent little spells to take the workload off the Australian pace bowling trio. However, he carried his rich vein of domestic batting form into the third Test and produced something special on his home ground — right in front of his parents and grandparents.

He silenced all his critics as he romped on to 181 at a strike rate of 76.69 before getting dismissed by James Anderson early on Day 4. Besides helping Australia gain the upper hand in the match, Mitchell’s classy knock also helped them arrest a batting slide when the skipper Steve Smith was falling short of partners.

The way he batted showed exactly why statistics can be illusive at times. A batting average of 21.74 in a total of 21 Tests doesn’t suggest anything about the batting capabilities he showed in this match. And it is mainly because statistics of previous performances do not give any idea about the technical improvements a player makes in his game.

While Smith maintained solidarity from one end, at times showing his class, Mitchell made even good deliveries look like bad ones with the kind of shots he played. The straight drives he put on display at the WACA were the main highlights of his innings.

He drove the English pacers all along the ground. Mitchell dominated the experienced English bowling duo of Anderson and Stuart Broad throughout his innings. Even Craig Overton, who had accounted for the crucial wickets of David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, seemed clueless against Marsh’s onslaught.

The way he went about his business driving everyone as straight as possible was a treat to watch. And it was all because of his improved front foot technique that he brought about with the help of his coach Scott Meuleman.

“He has changed the way I defend and think about the game. When I got back from India, I was in a pretty bad place with my cricket but he got a hold of me and changed my game. I finally worked out after eight years I can’t just plonk on to the front foot,” Mitchell said in an interview with The Guardian after his terrific knock on Saturday.

Nearly 65 percent of the runs he scored came in boundaries and most of them were hit straight down the ground — a feature that was never seen before in his previous Test outings. Mitchell had walked out to bat when Smith was batting on 116 and he ended the day on 181, just 48 runs short of Smith’s score at stumps on Day 3. That sums up the rate at which he scored those runs and completely took the game away from England.

Even though he couldn't convert his score into a double-century after getting trapped lbw by the leading English wicket-taker, it would still go down as a memorable knock in Ashes history. Although, a decent Test bowling average of 37.48 and first class bowling average of 28.92 suggest he is a better bowler than a batsman, it is time that he sets his record straight with splendid batting performances in the coming time ahead.

Mitchell Marsh — the batsman — might have arrived half a decade late. But, being just 26 years old, he still has time on his side. Rating him as a bowling all-rounder from now on is just going to be an understatement to his batting abilities. It looks like the batsman in Mitchell is going to take the center-stage ahead of the bowler in him for the coming time ahead.

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