Shaun Marsh is a picture of concentration on the way to his century in Colombo. Photo: Eranga Jayawardena Australia’s Shaun Marsh watches his shot during the third day of their third test cricket match against Sri Lanka in Colombo.
Former Test opener Chris Rogers says Shaun Marsh could be forgiven for being devastated should he not retain his spot for the opening Test against South Africa.
Marsh, 33, has centuries in his past two Tests – spread eight months apart – and replaced Joe Burns at the top of the order for Australia’s most recent Test, against Sri Lanka in Colombo.
Burns, averaging 41.52 in 12 Tests, enjoyed a strong home campaign last summer and tour of New Zealand but lost his way in Sri Lanka.
Rogers said Marsh – having thumped 182 against the West Indies in Hobart last summer, then been axed for a returning Usman Khawaja – deserved to retain his spot after his ton in Colombo.
“I can’t see how you can drop Shaun. As good as Joe was last year, I think you have to show some form of consistency in your selection, and Shaun has got hundreds in his last two Test matches. It would be pretty devastating to have put those performances on and not be selected,” Rogers said.
“I think he is in the box seat. But the thing about Joe, they know what he is capable of, and it’s not like he is going back to the start of the queue. He would be almost the next one in if he wasn’t picked. I am a big fan of Joe’s, but I would think even he would probably understand … if it was the other way around, I am sure Joe would feel like he deserves a spot as well.”
Marsh tweaked his right hamstring while batting for Western Australia in their Matador Cup clash against Tasmania on Saturday but remained at the crease until he was dismissed for 70.
He has managed a modest 18 Tests since his debut in Sri Lanka in 2011, having been unable to establish a regular spot in the top order. He has averaged 40.22 overall, but this has lifted into the mid 40s in six Tests as an opener. While he is a clever strokemaker, his issue has been “nicking off” early in his innings, caught either in the slips or gully region. This will be an area the Proteas will look to exploit, with veteran Dale Steyn leading the charge.
Rogers, who blossomed as an opener later in his career, said Marsh could do likewise.
“You can always get better. His maturity may come later, as it has with a few of us. There is nothing to see why he can’t make this a winner. He certainly has the skills,” he said.
“Ideally, they (selectors) would want him to open against India. I dare say they would like some kind of consistency there as well.”
Marsh is a better player of spin than Burns, a major consideration heading into the tour of India from February. But team performance boss Pat Howard has signalled a horses-for-courses policy, meaning Marsh could still be seen as the most suited opener for sub-continental conditions should he struggle against pace this summer.
He has played three Tests against the Proteas, all in South Africa split over two tours, averaging 39.33, including 148 at No.4 in the order at Centurion two years ago. Paceman Vernon Philander has dismissed him three times and Steyn twice.
Rogers, an expert commentator on ABC Radio, said Khawaja would return to No.3 in the order. Khawaja also was dropped for the final Test in Sri Lanka because of his woes against spin, but he had been in superb touch at home last summer, averaging 152 in three innings against New Zealand before injury intervened and 100 in two innings on his return against the West Indies.
“The way he played last year, he looked world class. Obviously there were a couple of issues with spin (in Sri Lanka). He wasn’t on his own – there were a few of us that had that,” Rogers said.
“He would have learnt, too. I think here in Australia he is one of the best we have got.”
While Australia had been crowned the No.1 Test nation ahead of the Sri Lankan series, they were still a team in transition. The batting order has yet to be rubber-stamped, wicketkeeper Peter Nevill needs runs, while injuries have hindered the pace attack behind leaders Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood.
Rogers, who retired after last year’s Ashes series loss, said improvement would come.
“There are a lot of guys that haven’t played a lot of Test matches. I think after the last season there was a lot of expectation that the players that had come in were going to be the finished article, but they still have a long way in their own development,” he said.
“The hardest thing about international cricket is being consistent and that is probably one of the lessons you learn pretty hard straight away. They are going to get better as guys play more Test matches and more games together. There is still a fair bit to come. I think they’ll be much better over here and Starc hopefully is firing and Josh coming back in will make a big difference to what we have seen over the last month or so.
“It will be improved performances, definitely in Australia, but there is still a lot of questions and a lot of work to be done, and I think the guys even in the side would agree with that.”
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