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Mitch Marsh

Marsh to sweep away batting blues

Allrounder confident he has the tools in place to find middle-order success in Sri Lanka

There are compelling reasons why Mitchell Marsh was so demonstrably disappointed to be controversially adjudged caught behind in what was otherwise a low-key, lopsided practice match in Colombo earlier this week.

Not solely because the 38 balls he faced in scoring 25 came to comprise – as was the case with his Test teammates who were part of that match against a Sri Lankan Board XI – Marsh’s only centre wicket hit-out in match conditions prior to the first Test starting at Pallekele on Tuesday.

Of greater frustration for the 24-year-old all-rounder was losing his wicket, albeit in contentious circumstances, to local off-spinner Shehan Jayasuriya after Marsh had spent countless hours over preceding months preparing himself for precisely such a scenario.

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That being the challenge of beginning and then building an innings of substance having arrived at the crease when the ball is devoid of sheen and hardness, and spin bowlers at home on subcontinental pitches are weaving their web.

Marsh has been undergoing intensive training to reshape a batting game that has been historically built around power and physical presence to try and instill the touch and subtleties that are needed to succeed as a middle-order player in foreign surroundings.

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And there can be no more alien landscape for a tall, free-scoring batter raised on the hard and fast pitches of the WACA Ground in Perth than low, slow subcontinental decks that sustain not a blade of grass but support spin from day one of a Test match.

So while admitting that his mock call for a review of the decision that saw him ruled caught behind while shaping to tuck Jayasuriya behind square on the leg side – a stroke that Marsh felt he failed utterly to execute – was a tad ill-advised, his fleeting annoyance was understandable if not altogether excusable.

"I’ve done a lot of work in the nets over the last probably six months playing spin and trying to improve," Marsh said after Australia’s 15-man squad arrived in the ancient Sri Lankan hill kingdom city of Kandy to finalise their preparation for the first Test at nearby Pallekele.

"The biggest thing here (in Sri Lanka) is if it is turning, to make sure that you have a game plan and that you stick to it from ball one.

"It’s all about being sharp as you can."

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Which is how Marsh appeared when he went to the crease in Colombo last Tuesday with the ball 72 overs old and Jayasuriya (who finished the innings with 5-110) operating in concert with left-arm orthodox spinner Chaturanga de Silva who had claimed the scalp of Australia skipper Steve Smith immediately prior to Marsh’s arrival.

Despite having played a vast majority of his 15 Tests to date on pitches that favour fast bowling ahead of spin – in Australia, England and New Zealand – Marsh had a significant experience on which to draw when he took guard and faced the dual spin threat earlier this week.

That came in his debut Test series against Pakistan on moribund surfaces in the UAE almost two years ago, and more specifically his second appearance in a Baggy Green Cap in daunting circumstances at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi.

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On that day, the Test novice went to the middle with his team in dire strife at 5-100 and not within sight of Pakistan’s elephantine first innings of 570, yet Marsh withstood the spin threat posed by Zulfiqar Babar and this week’s Lord’s hero Yasir Shah for almost three hours.

In doing so he notched his maiden Test half-century en-route to an innings-high 87, a milestone that he has not been able to replicate in his 16 completed Test innings since.

But he has taken confidence and belief from the recent ODI tri-series against the West Indies and South Africa on pitches in the Caribbean that increasingly resemble those in spin-friendly Asia, and where his unbeaten 79 in the penultimate match carried Australia to the final which they duly won.

With a career batting average in Tests of 23 in spite of his unquestioned talent with bat as well as ball, Marsh knows that the time to deliver on that promise will tick loudly through this three-Test series in Sri Lanka.

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And that the stated mantra of captain Smith and coach Darren Lehmann – to bat patient, to bat long and to bat big – means he must find a method by which he can revisit that success in Abu Dhabi and bring it to the equally unfamiliar landscapes of Pallekele, Galle and Colombo.

In order to achieve those results, Marsh has devoted much of those recent months in the nets working on his sweep shot.

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Which is not often seen in the repertoire of batters raised on the WACA but – as ex-Australia opener Matthew Hayden famously showed in India in 2001 – is invaluable against spinners on the subcontinent.

"I’ve worked really hard on my sweep shot over the last few months so hopefully in these (Test) matches I’ll be able to get it out, especially if it’s turning," Marsh said.

"I think it’s a great weapon to have - the ball is generally not going to be turning too much and is going to be missing the stumps.

"It’s also a great weapon to mess up the bowlers’ lengths and do something different, and also to get off strike which is probably the most important thing.

"So hopefully I’ll be out there long enough to play it."

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