Shaun Marsh would doubtless prefer not to be one of five batsmen run out on 99 in a Melbourne Test, but the prospect of an ongoing place in the Australian order, perhaps as high as No.3 for next year’s Ashes, should provide some consolation.
At 31, with two previous attempts at a Test career unfulfilled, and with middling scores of 32, 17 and 32 so far in the series, Marsh could easily have been dropped a third time if he had failed here and at the SCG.
But during an innings lasting four-and-a-half hours, Marsh showed why the selectors have overlooked a mediocre first-class record – an average of 36.61 across 13 years – and a tendency for extended troughs to go with the peaks he scaled with self-assured centuries in Sri Lanka (at No.3) and South Africa.
Marsh was picked as Michael Clarke’s replacement for Brisbane with two Sheffield Shield centuries under his belt this season including an expansive 134 not out against Victoria at the MCG.
He was in sweet touch that day, but had to show a different kind of application to drag the Boxing Day Test out of India’s reach.
That was no sure thing when he came to the crease at 3-131, with Australia’s lead worth less than 200 and star batsmen David Warner and Steve Smith back in the dressing room.
It was even less certain at 5-176, with Ishant Sharma generating dangerous reverse swing and the Australians wobbling.
Marsh soaked up pressure, facing 50 balls between his third and fourth boundaries, and knuckled down again after resuming at 62 on day five to ensure only one team could win the game.
His performance should help him cement a spot even when Clarke and younger brother Mitchell are fit again, and put more pressure on incumbent No.3 Shane Watson. If Marsh can be relied upon up the order in England next year, Watson could be left to compete with Mitch Marsh for the No.6 position.
Anxiety seemed to get the better of Marsh when he took off for a crazy single, with the field up, in pursuit of his first Test century on home soil just before lunch on day five.
Before the run-out Marsh had driven a ball so hard that after Ravi Ashwin dropped the return catch he required medical attention for a bruised hand. During the ensuing interval the Australian presumably received the message that a declaration was imminent, and he crashed Ashwin for a straight six and four to long-on in consecutive balls.
Perched on 99 facing Umesh Yadav, he was itching for a single, twice shaping to take off and thinking better of it. But at the end of the over he could resist no more. Virat Kohli’s direct hit from mid-off made Marsh the third Australian (after Bill Brown and Arthur Morris) to be run out on 99 in a Test.
Remarkably, of the 15 previous run-outs on 99 in the history of Test cricket, four were at the MCG, most recently when Damien Martyn ran out South African champion Jacques Kallis in the second innings of the 2001 Boxing Day Test.
Marsh looked shattered as he walked down the players’ race, but he knows better than most that it could have been worse. After his last home series against India he declared himself “a walking wicket”, unable to dig himself out of a slump that saw him average 2.83 in four Tests.
At least Marsh can now feel less anxious now about his place in the team.
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