Shaun Marsh’s career of feast or famine

Veteran batsman’s runscoring feats have become boom or bust throughout his seven-year Test career.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images.

Not since Shane Watson last pulled on the green and gold jersey in March 2016 has there been a more divided figure in Australian cricket than Shaun Marsh.

Poor form and injuries have blighted Marsh’s career to the extent that he and younger brother Mitchell are now seen as figures of fun to certain sections of the Australian public for their perceived wealth of opportunities and lack of runs.

It’s been almost seven years since Marsh sr. first played a home Test series against India. Across six innings in that 2011/12 summer he scored just 17 runs and averaged 2.42. Eleven of those runs were scored in one knock.

For a number 11 those would be disappointing returns. But for a top order batsman they were outright disastrous and he subsequently paid the price by being axed from the side for more than two years.

Unfortunately for Marsh the aforementioned series wasn’t an anomaly either. His seven-year and 34-Test career has habitually fluctuated from one extreme to another. The big hundreds are regularly followed by a string of low scores and vice versa.

Since debuting in the hills of Kandy as a 28-year-old with nearly ten years of first-class experienced behind him, 40.98% of his Test innings have ended with single figure scores. That’s 25 out of 61 innings that have concluded before they’ve reached ten.

To reiterate the all or nothing nature of his batting, when he does go past ten his average balloons close to 60 – almost 25 runs more than his Test career average of 35.28. He has also logged ten ducks in 61 innings which is just one less than Allan Border recorded across his 265 innings in the Baggy Green.

While it’s inevitable that all top order batsmen – Marsh has batted all across the top six – will occasionally be dismissed cheaply throughout their careers, to fail to make double figures in over 40% of your innings shows a batsman who struggles to tough it out when confidence is down.

As a result, he’s been dropped from the side on numerous occasions, but has still managed to outlive the coaching spans of Tim Nielsen, Mickey Arthur and Darren Lehmann. Now he’s reunited with his former Western Australia coach and mentor Justin Langer who took over the top job in May.

The pair have worked together in Perth since late 2012 with Langer, himself a former international lefthander, often helping Marsh iron out technical deficiencies in his game. Having a close ally at the helm will no doubt help to prolong his future in the side.

At his best he’s got the dreamy cover drives, the powerful cut shots and the all-round elegant stroke play to revival the finest. But, and there’s certainly always a but with Shaun Marsh, to the contrary he can also be found scratching around like an old hen uncertain of where his next run will come from.

In a modern era of increasing technology and data analysis, it’s easy to spot a batsman’s weakness. And it’s certainly no secret that Marsh has got a tendency to drive away from his body early in his innings. For any international bowler worth their salt it’s not rocket science – target him early on with a fourth or fifth stump line and you’re in with a decent shout of having him caught behind.

If it wasn’t for his obvious talent and the relative lack of other Test-quality options, then his international career could well have turned out differently. His ability to score big and very timely match-winning hundreds has certainly given him a greater margin for error with the selectors.

Shaun Marsh, Michael Hussey
Shaun Marsh celebrates a hundred on his Test debut with teammate Mike Hussey. (Photo Credit: Associated Press.)

But despite the large barren spells of drought, there have been the good times too. The times of feast (or in batting terms, “The Daddy Hundreds”). Its certain his career at the highest level wouldn’t have survived without them. And they have been vast and vital. All six of his Test hundreds have gone past the 125-run mark, while five of them have contributed to Australian victories.

Batting in Ricky Ponting’s recently vacated number three spot, his 141 on debut in Pallekele was a statement making knock coming just months after Ponting had handed over the captaincy in the aftermath of a home Ashes defeat. He later returned to Sri Lanka in 2016 to make a face-saving 130 alongside Steve Smith in Colombo in a series Australia would eventually lose 3-0.

After being sidelined for much of 2012 and 2013 due to his diminishing returns, he returned with a bang in early 2014 scoring a masterful 148 against South Africa in Centurion. He repelled an attack that featured Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel for 428 minutes to put Australia one-nil up in a series they would later win 2-1.

But in typical Marsh fashion he recorded a pair in his next match in Port Elizabeth and was dropped for the final match of the series having lasted just three balls in two innings.

The hundreds were sporadic thereafter – as they often were. Although a huge 182 was compiled against a weak West Indian attack at Hobart in late 2015 when Marsh put on 449 for the fourth wicket with Adam Voges.

He was immediately dropped for the fit-again Usman Khawaja for the next Test as other more reliable options were sort. Thereafter he returned only for one-off Tests against Sri Lanka and South Africa in 2016 before cementing his place again in India with fighting knocks of 66 in Bengaluru and a final day match-saving 197-ball 53 in Ranchi.

His solid tour of India was followed up by an excellent home Ashes campaign where he finally showed some much-needed consistency by following up a significant 126 not out in Adelaide with 156 in Sydney to finish the series behind only Smith in the batting charts with 445 runs at 74.16.

It seemed like a career-defining moment for Marsh who finally appeared to take ownership of the number five position. However, his form has since nosedived with series in South Africa and the UAE producing just 161 runs across 12 innings at 13.41. In the two Tests against Pakistan in October he averaged only 3.50 with a top score of seven.

Having failed to reach fifty since his hundred at the SCG his Test future appeared on the periphery. But strong support from Langer and an upturn in ODI and Sheffield Shield form has given him a life raft ahead of a huge home series with India.

Match-winning scores of 80 and 98 against Tasmania in late October were followed by 22 and 106 for the Australian ODI side against South Africa and an unbeaten 163 to help Western Australia chase down 313 against South Australia in Adelaide before he rounded out his preparation for the Border-Gavaskar Test series with 81 and 0 against New South Wales at the new Perth Stadium.

With key batsmen and former leaders Smith and David Warner still serving out their one-year ball-tampering suspensions, its left to Marsh and fellow lefthander Khawaja to step up and replace the huge void with leadership and runs.

When Marsh steps out to bat against India at the Adelaide Oval on Thursday morning he will be hoping to replicate the first-innings 126 he made against England there last summer and not the 3 and 0 he scored against India in January 2012.

How much longer the 35-year-old can hold onto his fragile Test career remains to be seen.

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