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TOUR OF ZIMBABWE

Marsh keeps Aussies marching

03 September 2014

Power-hitting helps Australia to a big win

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In much the same manner as umpires and accountants, a sports team's selectors are adjudged to be doing their job when nobody is ostensibly aware of their involvement.

The fact that the four wise men who adjudicate on the personnel who take the field for Australia were barely discussed during the ODI team’s authoritative 62-run win over South Africa in Harare will have come as welcome relief.

And it may also convince them not to tinker with the line-up for Saturday’s final which will almost certainly be against the Proteas, unless they suffer an unexpected loss to Zimbabwe on Thursday.

Not an unwelcome result given the 48 hours that followed the deposed world No.1's loss to Zimbabwe last Sunday that became an untidy airing of opinions from coach and selection panel member Darren Lehmann on one hand, and injured captain Michael Clarke on either side of the Indian Ocean.

Quick Single: Clarke vows to keep talking straight

So, to rejig the line-up today and have all those changes deliver immediate and significant returns has enabled the panel – also including chair Rod Marsh, Mark Waugh and selector-on-duty in Harare Trevor Hohns – to assume their preferred profile in the background.

Not that they had too many permutations to work with, now that Clarke has returned home and the only real discussion likely centred around which of the seam-bowling all-rounders should be assigned drinks ferrying duties.

Once Clarke’s lieutenant George Bailey tendered a team at the coin toss that showed those jobs had been given to James Faulkner and Ben Cutting, then it was simply a matter for the panel to lounge back and revel in their perspicacity.

Sent into bat on another slow, worn-out pitch at the Harare Sports Club, Phil Hughes – the in-form opening bat whose omission from the series opener prompted the first selection debate of the tour – showed he was up for the fight when he took consecutive fours from Dale Steyn’s first over.

In taming Steyn and Morne Morkel, as well as spinners Imran Tahir and Aaron Phangiso on a surface that is supposed to test his unorthodox technique, Hughes hit 85 and was only denied a century when he holed out attempting to lift the run-rate.

By that stage, the elevation of Steve Smith – whose absence during the Zimbabwe loss led Clarke to go public with his frustration – to No.3 had also paid dividends.

Smith looked at home despite batting in the pivotal position for the first time in his ODI career, and fashioned a steady first-wicket stand of 85 in almost 20 overs with Hughes before he too became frustrated by the slow pitch and was caught at the wicket trying to go over the top.

He was one of the majority of Australian top-order batsmen to find the going tough, especially against Tahir and Phagiso, until the true genius of the Australian strategy was unleashed.

In detailing his team’s revised batting order at game’s beginning, Lehmann noted that the decision to shunt all-rounder Mitchell Marsh down the order after mixed returns in two outings at three was predicated on the potential value of his late-order hitting.

Having taken a couple of dozen deliveries to sum up the pitch’s pace or lack thereof, Marsh launched himself at a shellshocked South African seam attack that could only hope that one of his enormous blows landed the ball so far into suburban Harare it could not be found.

In the final five overs of Australia’s innings, Marsh plundered a remarkable 64 from 24 balls including three boundaries and seven thunderous sixes as anything short or beyond yorker length simply begged to be hit.

Which Marsh unerringly did, far and often including a return of 21 from a solitary over from Steyn that featured three sixes, the first time in the celebrated paceman’s ODI career he has suffered such an indignity.

As a result, Australia’s potentially skinny total ballooned to 282 with 70 of those coming from the last five overs, and all but six of those to a rampant Marsh.

A change of tactics when the Proteas began their run chase provided another triumph of planning.

Sharing the new-ball with recalled quick Mitchell Johnson, off-spinner Glenn Maxwell struck a sizeable blow in his first over when he lured prolific runs scorer of late Quniton de Kock into a miscued slog sweep that looped to cover.

Marsh then staked his early claim for man-of-the-match honours when Brad Haddin snared a memorable leg-side catch off Hashim Amla, and sole spinner Nathan Lyon – who was overlooked for last week’s loss to South Africa – claimed the crucial wicket of AB de Villiers.

Even the misfortunes worked in Australia’s favour.

When Lyon hobbled from the field after 20 overs, worryingly becoming increasingly inconvenienced with a lateral leg injury, his replacement Ben Cutting held a clever running catch to send JP Duminy back to the sheds with the Proteas run chase in the balance.

Faf du Plessis was the only true hope for the pre-match favourites by that stage, and the man who recorded his maiden ODI century against Australia last Wednesday showed it is now a habit when he produced a lone hand of 126.

But when the decision to bring Richardson into the team was vindicated with his timely, albeit dismissal of du Plessis who trod on his stumps attempting to tuck a ball on the on-side, it had become a day to remember for all those involved in the Australians’ planning.

All that was left was for Johnson to warm up for Saturday’s final by spreadeagling the stumps and the morale of the South African middle-order – which he successfully achieved against David Miller and Morne Morkel – and the campaign that seemed off the rails last Sunday was surely back on track.

Australia now has three days' rest, much of it which will be spent monitoring the fitness of key bowler Lyon, before they return to the scene of their great recent embarrassment to try and inflict another scar on the South Africans.

De Villiers was left to lament the lack of competition from his charges, but denied South Africa had lost their way with the ball.

"If you look at the scoreboard now, it looks like we didn't compete," said De Villiers. "Having won the toss I thought we'd be in for a competitive game which wasn't the case. 

"It felt good for the first 40 overs, the spinners pulled it back very well. Mitchell Marsh  played an amazing knock at the end and showed that once you get in on this wicket it gets a lot easier. 

"I don't think our bowlers were too bad. We've seen in the IPL and all around the world the batters getting very dangerous these days at the end, especially when they get a bit of freedom like that."

Australia XI: Aaron Finch, Phillip Hughes, Steven Smith, Glenn Maxwell, George Bailey, Mitchell Marsh, Brad Haddin (wk), Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Kane Richardson, Nathan Lyon, Ben Cutting (12th)

South Africa XI: Quinton de Kock (wk), Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers (c), JP Duminy, David Miller, Ryan McLaren, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Aaron Phangiso, Imran Tahir, Rilee Roussow (12th)

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About the Writer

 @ARamseyCricket
@ARamseyCricket

Andrew Ramsey is the senior writer for cricket.com.au. He previously wrote for the Guardian, The Australian, The Times, The Telegraph, The Hindu and Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack and the author of The Wrong Line.

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