Marsh roars to boost Australia after false start
Four wickets to Mitchell Marsh gave Australia the upper hand on a see-sawing first day as England finished on 8-271
Andrew Ramsey at The Oval
13 September 2019, 06:44 AM AEST
Australia's polarising decision to include Mitchell Marsh for the final Ashes Test helped to quell similar misgivings about the decision to send England in to bat as the allrounder produced a career-best bowling return.
On a day when Australia squandered as many opportunities as they seized, Marsh responded to skipper Tim Paine's call for him to learn from England's game-changing allrounder Ben Stokes by snaring 4-35.
It eclipsed his previous best Test innings return of 4-61 against the West Indies at the MCG in 2015.
Regularly reaching speeds around 145kph and swinging the ball both ways in the final session, Marsh helped paper over numerous fielding lapses that allowed England to reach 8-271 at stumps.
That tally was bolstered by a belligerent, unbeaten 64 off 84 balls from Jos Buttler who slipped into one-day mode and will resume tomorrow with obdurate tailender Jack Leach (10 not out from 31 balls).
Marsh's post-tea spell of 3-17 from eight mostly precise overs brought him the scalps of Jonny Bairstow (22), Sam Curran (15) and Chris Woakes (2), with each of them falling to full deliveries that moved late.
Mitch Marsh has four wickets in an innings for the second time in his Test career - his best bowling before today was this spell against the Windies in 2015 #Ashes pic.twitter.com/btQ8JTdo7A— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) September 12, 2019
But he paid a price for his toil, managing a solitary delivery when called back for a third spell late in the day before hamstring cramps forced him briefly from the field.
Playing his first Test match in almost eight months, the physical toll his 16.1 overs extracted further highlighted how extraordinary Stokes's exploits have proved.
Not only did Marsh better Stokes's best bowling figures of the Ashes series to date, he helped spare his team's blushes after they turfed three catches (all offered by England's captain Joe Root), were denied a wicket by a Pat Cummins no-ball and unsuccessfully speculated on another DRS review.
Those errors, most of which came in the morning session where Australia gave the impression they might not have fully recuperated from their grinding five-day win at Old Trafford last weekend, heightened debate about the wisdom of Paine's call to bowl first.
Former players and keyboard critics in both hemispheres decried the decision at a venue traditionally regarded as good for batting, and where Root indicated he would have taken to the crease if given the option.
Last time team opted to bowl first in Test at The Oval was England in 2015 Ashes. Australia made 481 and won by an innings #Ashes— Andrew Ramsey (@ARamseyCricket) September 12, 2019
Given the average first innings total in Tests at The Oval for the past decade has been 367, Australia wouldn't be displeased with their day save for the profligacy.
Especially given the knowledge that the average score for teams batting second over that same period is marginally less – 343.
However, when the coin came down, it was difficult to discern what was the bigger talking point – Australia's decision to bowl first, or their call to overlook both Mitchell Starc and James Pattinson and opt for Peter Siddle.
It seemed that neither of those matters would quell the momentum Australia built at Old Trafford last week when opener Rory Burns was adjudged lbw to Josh Hazlewood in the day's fourth over.
But when Burns immediately called for the decision to be reviewed, and it confirmed his view the ball was bouncing over the stumps, the morning's pattern was set.
Initially, it seemed that fortune would continue to roll the visitors' way when Burns's opening partner Joe Denly nicked-off to second slip in familiar fashion.
But the difficulty that Steve Smith found in securing the chance in his usually sure grasp proved a portent for the profligate hour that was to follow.
It began with a couple of uncharacteristic fumbles among the in-fielders, and then suddenly the wheels came off.
And they didn't just slowly wobble loose; rather, each came adrift in quick succession as the bandwagon thudded to earth.
The first fell when Root, who had begun his innings with an intent that belied his recent form that has yielded three ducks in this series, was on 24 and was set-up by Cummins' short-ball plan.
The England captain obliged by pulling flat, hard and at Siddle who had only to move a metre or so to his right to accept the waist-high catch that bounced from his hands as the crowd behind him roared.
In Cummins' next over and with a solitary run added to the skipper's score, an aggrieved Cummins extracted lift from the dry pitch that caught Root by surprise but, once again, the Australians were catching nothing.
The edge flew from Root's angled bat at head height to Paine behind the stumps, where it veered late to the keeper's right as he thrust out a glove in front of first slip David Warner's face and the ball fell safely to earth.
The sense of muddle-headedness the Ashes holders were evoking was summed up immediately before lunch when Marsh removed his cap to take the ball, only for Cummins to appear at the top of his run-up and continue his luckless spell.
There was a demonstrable change after the break, with the bowlers finding a more challenging length but little had altered in the field.
From Siddle's first over following the adjournment, Root once again offered a chance that Smith looked set to swallow as he launched himself right from second slip but, again, the catch was dropped.
Having enjoyed three generous reprieves in reaching 30, Root could rightly have felt the misfortune that had characterised his campaign to date was being refunded to him in a lump sum.
Clearly there was none available for Burns who was within a stroke of his fourth half-century of the campaign when he aimed a languid pull shot at Hazlewood that looped so tamely to mid-on that it could not conceivably have been missed.
If it sent a message that cross-bat strokes might prove problematic on a pitch that sported the first live grass seen this series, it wasn't heeded by Ben Stokes who was elevated to four in the batting order because of his inability to bowl due to a shoulder injury.
Stokes' attempted pull from Marsh's fourth over spiralled from a leading edge into the south London sky before landing in the grip of Nathan Lyon who had barely moved from his post at gully.
On match eve, Paine had effectively challenged Marsh to use the feats of endurance and brilliance that Stokes has produced throughout this northern summer as both inspiration and blueprint.
To dismiss England's most dangerous batter represented a timely reply, and Marsh would go on to add emphasis to his rebuttal.
But not before Root's luck finally ran dry.
Upon reaching 35, he had become the third-youngest men's batter to reach 7,000 Test runs (after Sir Alastair Cook and Sachin Tendulkar) having reached that milestone with a sweetly timed square drive from a rare Hazlewood half-volley.
However, in keeping with Root's recent record, he got to a half-century but went not much further.
For the second time in as many innings, he had his off-stump tilted back by an exquisite offering from Cummins that pitched on a line that compelled the captain before shaping away just enough to pass the prodding bat.
At 4-170 shortly after tea, Australia's decision to bowl first was starting to look a little more prudent.
Although the frustration compounded when Cummins had Curran – who had hooked the world's number-one Test bowler for six earlier in the same over – stone-dead lbw only for video review to show he had over-stepped.
More galling was the edge that Hazlewood induced from Buttler (when on 25) that pitched at the feet of Warner at slip and sped, unimpeded, to the boundary rope.
Mitch Marsh's spell after tea: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 . . . . . 1 W 1 2 . . . . . . 4 1 . . 1 W . 2 . . W . 3-16 from seven overs #Ashes pic.twitter.com/6S8GG7ZpZi— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) September 12, 2019
Of all the chances created but not taken, that would prove the most costly, with its true worth to be revealed on day two.
Australia XI: David Warner, Marcus Harris, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Matthew Wade, Mitch Marsh, Tim Paine (c, wk), Pat Cummins, Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood
England XI: Rory Burns, Joe Denly, Joe Root (c), Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Chris Woakes, Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad, Jack Leach
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.
England squad: Joe Root (c), Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jack Leach, Craig Overton, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Chris Woakes.
First Test: Australia won by 251 runs at Edgbaston
Second Test: Match drawn at Lord's
Third Test: England won by one wicket at Headingley
Fourth Test: Australia won by 185 runs at Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval