Why Marsh won Test recall and who gets axed
MITCH Marsh is back in the Test frame.
How does this happen and why now is the polite way of phrasing many social media posts that have done the rounds since Cricket Australia released its 13-man squad for the WACA Test.
Like his brother Shaun, Mitch is much-maligned. Two half centuries and a batting average of 21 from 35 Test innings do not exactly appeal to the masses as "pick me" statistics.
But picked he has been and now the selectors must decide whether the 26-year-old all-rounder deserves a recall to the XI in place of Peter Handscomb.
Of course, they could also drop one of Usman Khawaja or Cameron Bancroft and send Shaun Marsh to the top of the order, but that appears the less-likely option.
The Australian selectors are on record as saying they want a pace-bowling all-rounder at No.6 in their batting order. They gave the younger Marsh ample opportunities to cement his place and he never did, but he's also only 26 years old and has been in ripping form for Western Australia this season.
Across the last three Shield games, he has averaged 71 with the bat and peeled off his second first-class hundred just last week.
Had Marcus Stoinis been available (his father passed away recently) he could have been part of Australia's plans for Brisbane, which again demonstrates the selectors' willingness to introduce a fifth bowling option behind the four obvious front-liners.
"You just wonder whether after the first two Tests, the selectors - looking to Perth, Melbourne - are thinking we may need another seam bowling option in the top six," former Test paceman Jason Gillespie hypothesised on The Bowlology Report before the Ashes.
"So they may look to make a change."
Marsh is also exactly the type of bowler the selectors want. His Test record is OK with the ball and his first-class numbers are excellent (116 wickets at 28.92). He's taken 29 wickets in 21 Tests at 37. The WA skipper bowls with pace, aggression and has proven himself as a key wicket-taker.
Marsh only started bowling again after a bad shoulder injury last week. In Western Australia's JLT one-day domestic cup and first three Shield games he played as a specialist batsman, effectively ruling him out of Test selection.
But now he's back bowling - and reportedly feeling good about his shoulder - the Australian selectors view him as a realistic option to help ease the workload on Mitchell Starc, Patrick Cummins and Josh Hazlewood.
The other important point to consider with this squad change are the conditions that will confront both teams at the WACA on December 14-19.
This season the pitch has been exceedingly flat at the venue, leading to scores of 514, 424, 414, 363 and 325 over the past two red ball Shield games.
The Gabba was expected to move around, the pink ball was supposed to make bowling more prosperous in Adelaide but in Perth, it is generally a batsman's paradise. Therefore, the selectors may feel Australia's three quicks need backup and since it would weaken the batting too much to play a specialist fifth seamer (despite Pat Cummins' recent form pushing him closer to all-rounder status), Marsh was always at the front of the queue once he started bowling again.
IS HANDSCOMB THE OBVIOUS OMISSION IF MARSH PLAYS?
In short, yes. Handscomb is the obvious casualty if the selectors decide to recall Marsh.
But there are other options, too. Cameron Bancroft has failed three times in four innings and although it would be harsh to oust him after just two Tests, it would allow Handscomb another opportunity to impress on a flatter deck.
If they went down that route, then Shaun Marsh would surely be shifted (again) up to the top of the order and his younger brother would slot into No.6.
Until three days ago, a Marsh for Marsh swap seemed not only possible but likely for the Perth Test. But the 34-year-old's unbeaten 128 in the first dig dispelled that as even a remote possibility.
Another possibility could be to drop Tim Paine, hand the gloves to Cameron Bancroft in front of his home crowd, and bat Mitch Marsh at seven. That would look like a really nicely balanced batting order but would place great stress on Bancroft, who is yet to solidify his spot in Australia's top six without even having to worry about glovework.
Of course, these are all hypotheticals. The reality is if Marsh plays, then Handscomb won't. It would be unfortunate for the Victorian batsman, who averages 47 in Test cricket but has found the going tough this series and didn't cash in with big tons when he got himself set in India and Bangladesh this year.
Mitchell Marsh playing all depends on how fatigued the bowlers feel, how flat the pitch looks and how hot the forecast is for the Perth Test.