Mitchell Marsh might be the most experienced international bowler in a revamped Australia line-up for their upcoming ODI series against Ireland and South Africa, but the all-rounder is laying claim to an even more coveted prize.
Marsh, whose 37 ODI appearances along with 18 Tests means he has more Australia caps than all the other specialist bowlers in the current 14-man touring party combined, has seized his chance to head up the current incarnation of the team’s ‘Fast Bowlers’ Union’.
The 24-year-old was repeatedly denied membership of the FBU during last year’s Ashes tour of the UK when the incumbent administration – led by Test spearheads Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson – decreed the all-rounder’s bowling speeds had not reached the entry criteria of 140kph.
There were even stories circulating that Marsh had offered cash payments to be included in the FBU, the privileges of which include seating in the more luxurious section of the team bus where jaded fast bowlers can stretch their legs, as well as exclusive ‘quicks only’ events and meetings.
While Marsh denied he had tried to subvert the strict admission criteria, the absence of card-carrying pace bowlers Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Peter Siddle, James Pattinson and Pat Cummins (rehabilitating or resting) on the current tour along with the recent retirements of Johnson and Ryan Harris has resulted in a leadership vacuum.
And despite being a second or third-change seamer in both limited-overs and Test cricket, Marsh announced today that he has staged a bloodless coup to head up the FBU during the Qantas Tour of South Africa that formally begins with next Tuesday’s ODI against Ireland at Benoni.
"I’ve spoken to Starcy and I’ve taken over as interim chairman of the FBU," Marsh said in Johannesburg today where the Australians were restricted to strength and conditioning work ahead of their first formal training session at Wanderers Stadium tomorrow.
"Hopefully the speedos (speed guns) are turned up for us and they’ll be in the 140s (kph), though I probably doubt that."
While the work that Marsh undertook with former Australia fast bowling coach Craig McDermott during and after that Ashes series has seen him regularly nudge the 140kph mark, he’s not expecting to be thrown the new ball during the coming weeks in South Africa.
Rather, the attack will likely be led by Victorian pair John Hastings (23 ODIs) and Scott Boland (10), with as-yet-uncapped seam trio Chris Tremain, Joe Mennie and Daniel Worrall to play their roles through the six-match tour.
Of those, only Boland and Tremain are likely to repeatedly push into FBU territory but Marsh believes his new-look cartel of quicks will acquit themselves well against a Proteas batting line-up that includes the man regarded by many as the world’s premier limited-overs player, AB de Villiers.
"Whilst we’ve got not much experience at international level the guys deserve to be here and I’m very excited to see how we all go and we’ve certainly come here to win the series," Marsh said today.
"I can’t wait to get into it.
"Obviously we’ve got John Hastings who’s going to be the leader of the attack with a wealth of experience and who over the past 12 months he’s been – behind Starcy – has been our best one-day bowler.
"So I still feel like we’ve got a fair bit of experience in the line-up and it’s going to be good fun."
Indeed, since the ODI series in the UK that followed Australia’s Ashes defeat a year ago, Hastings has equalled Starc’s one-day wicket haul of 25 despite being forced to miss the recent tri-series against South Africa and the West Indies in the Caribbean due to ankle surgery.
The world champions’ next-most successful seamer over that time has been Marsh with 22 ODI wickets at 30.09 and around 5.5 runs an over, the same number of scalps as the other specialist bowler in the current touring party, South Australia leg spinner Adam Zampa.
Marsh, who missed the ODI component of the recent Sri Lanka tour having returned to Perth for a period of rest following the 0-3 Test series defeat, is also eyeing the opportunity to prove himself as a reliable option in the “death overs” against one of the world’s most potent batting line-ups.
A role that has been regularly filled by Marsh’s fellow all-rounder James Faulkner, another absentee from the current tour having suffered a calf strain prior to the team’s departure last week.
"For me, certainly in one-day games, it’s about keeping it simple and trying to execute my plans every ball," Marsh said.
"I think the big thing is if we can get the ball reversing in the last 10 overs of the innings over here.
"As batsmen, we know that if the ball is moving a little bit it’s obviously a lot more challenging at the end of an innings.
"And it will be nice to see the ball bouncing above waist height most of the time (as opposed to the dry, slow pitches in Sri Lanka).
"Over the last couple of years we’ve built up a great rivalry with the South Africa team.
"We play against these guys so much now we’ve got our plans against them, it’s just about going out there and executing on the day."