Stokes the benchmark for fitter-than-ever Marsh
Australia allrounder only has to look at his opposition for inspiration as he returns to the side for the fifth Ashes Test
Andrew Ramsey in London
12 September 2019, 08:00 AM AEST
The value that Mitchell Marsh could add to Australia's men's Test team became glaringly apparent a couple of weeks ago.
It was not so much Marsh's all-round effort in the resounding tour-game victory over Derbyshire, in which he collected player-of-the-match honours and a magnum of French champagne for his efforts.
Rather it was during the final days of the preceding third Test at Headingley, where England's Ben Stokes turned the direction of the contest with the ball and then won it with the bat, that caught the eye of Australia's selectors and the team brains trust.
While Stokes's unbeaten 135 on the final day at Leeds will remain the defining contribution of that memorable match, it was his tireless bowling spell a day earlier – when he delivered 24.2 overs (3-56) virtually unchanged – that many rated an equally important effort.
That was the view within the Australia dressing room, where the sight of Stokes bowling at full pace and getting the ball to swing like no other seamer from either team on the Headingley surface was seen as something almost super-human.
And that was before Stokes began his five-and-a-half-hour batting innings that delivered England a scarcely believable one-wicket win.
It's the capacity to deliver that sustained high-level output more so than the obvious skill required with both disciplines that Australia skipper Tim Paine believes should act as the benchmark for Marsh.
"During this Ashes, even watching Ben Stokes go about it, we've constantly spoken to him about him being at that level of fitness where you can bowl 25, 30 overs and then come out and score a hundred," Paine said on Wednesday.
"That's something that Mitch has watched up close, and something that he's aspiring to."
Marsh has a chance to demonstrate just how much of a difference the rigorous fitness regimen he's undertaken of late has made when he replaces Travis Head in the Australia XI for the fifth Ashes Test starting at The Oval later today.
It completes a full revolution of fortune's wheel for the 27-year-old, who endured a wretched summer in Australia after being elevated to vice-captaincy of the Test team.
Not only did he lose his Test place after indifferent performances against Pakistan (in the UAE) and then India (at home) that saw Head inherit the deputy leadership, he suffered a serious injury when struck in the groin while preparing for a Sheffield Shield game last March.
He was also overlooked for Australia's World Cup squad with Marcus Stoinis preferred as a seam-bowling allrounder, and lost his Cricket Australia central contract.
He was then considered something of an outside selection in the 17-man Ashes squad where he was expected to take on a heavy workload in the tour games at Worcester and Derby but unlikely to push for re-inclusion in the starting line-up.
That was until Australia's top-order left-handers were worked over so ruthlessly by England's seamers (particularly Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer) and Marsh's all-round value rose significantly.
Marsh has accepted full responsibility for his earlier axing after what he described as a "stinker" of a season in Australia.
But rather than wallowing in self-pity, the allrounder who seemed set to realise his potential after posting two centuries during the 2017-18 Ashes campaign in Australia, set about redressing his shortcomings.
"I think Mitch has worked his backside off for the last six or seven months," Paine said.
"He got some pretty honest feedback when he was dropped during the Indian series, about where he was at both physically and with his cricket.
"He had a choice to make – either to sulk about it, or to do something about it, and Mitch at the moment is as fit as we've seen him."
The difference that the intensive physical work Marsh has been undertaking with the Bupa Support Team strength and conditioning staff was most notable during the Derby game.
While his top score of 74 (from 118 balls) batting at number three in Australia's sole innings of that thumping win was impressive, it was his bowling that yielded even greater promise.
Regularly reaching challenging speeds and employing immaculate control, Marsh returned figures of 1-33 (from 11 overs) and 2-5 (six overs) which led selection chair Trevor Hohns to note at game's end he had "certainly given us a good option".
Paine went to great lengths to explain the decision to recall Marsh at Head's expense was not an indication of a major directional shift, but rather it recognised the need for an extra seam-bowling option given the workload borne by the front-line quicks over recent months.
However, if Marsh can show even flashes of the mercurial Stokes – who will be deployed as a specialist batter in the fifth Test due to an ongoing shoulder injury – then he might permanently reclaim the position he looked to have grasped during the previous Ashes series.
And while he's primarily been seen as a batter who bowls a bit, the work he's put in with the ball now looms as his unlikely trump card.
"Certainly when he's fitter, his bowling goes to another level," Paine said.
"Obviously if you're a boy the size he is, it's hard to run in all day when you're carrying a few extra kilos.
"So he's worked hard to work them off.
"He's always worked very hard on his cricket, and we know the talent that he's got.
"So we're looking forward to seeing him put all his hard work into action this week."
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