Australia lost 7 for 67 at the MCG. They were 4 for 76 in their first innings at the Gabba. In Adelaide, they were out for 138 in the second innings. Only once in the series have more than two batsmen scored higher than 57 in an innings. Peter Handscomb is already gone and Usman Khawaja might miss Sydney.
Australia are 3-0 up but there is little doubt their batting remains poor. You can't walk down the street in Australia for someone telling you how ordinary the English bowling is. They're dud medium pacers, their spinner is a joke, and Stuart Broad is bowling like he's older than Jimmy Anderson looks. And yet, Australia aren't dominating with the bat. They're winning with the ball, and hanging in with the bat. No one personifies that more than Shaun Marsh.
"He shouldn't be playing."
"Oh no, why him again?"
"What are the selectors smoking?"
Stuart Binny, Shane Watson, Wahab Riaz. It doesn't matter the team, there will always be a player who's continually picked and fans hate it. Sports fans know best; they hate that guy, he's no good, or only okay when things are good, or bloody lucky. He has pictures of the selectors on his phone, or some other even-more-ludicrous suggestion.
This is before the media's role, the never-ending look for the next bloke who's out of the team, or the guy who shouldn't have been in there.
Everyone mentions the selectors but, as also happens for player contracts, we somehow blame the player for management mistakes. As if any player will say, "No, I don't want to play this Test match", despite dreaming of cricket his whole life, desperately trying to get selected. Now he has been, he should say, "You know what, I reckon I'm not quite good enough, why don't you pick someone else."
It's not something professional athletes often do, so Shaun Marsh and his three Shield fifties accepted the team's offer.
Marsh was a late bloomer, especially by Australian standards. Most top-quality Australian batsmen are dominating Shield cricket by the time they are 25. In Marsh's first eight years of Shield cricket he made only four hundreds. That, and his career first-class average of 41, is the first knock on him. He has never, year in, year out, been a Shield star. He was over 30 when he started dominating first-class cricket year after year and, by then, everyone was looking at his Test record.
Marsh also had to overcome the alleged nepotism of being the son of Geoff Marsh. Geoff's career record was not brilliant, four Test hundreds in 50 Tests at 33.18 is hardly inspiring, but he was a battler, who took on the Windies' quickest quicks. For a while, it seemed every time you turned on the TV Geoff was making an ODI hundred in an era when they were not that common - his conversion rate was the sixth best in ODI cricket during the 80s and 90s. Marsh Snr's career also spanned almost every generation of Australian cricket due to his coaching: he played with the 70s crew, was an 80s fighter, and coached in the successful 90s. Almost everyone in Australian cricket has some relationship with him. And coming into the Perth Test, Mitch Marsh was the other player in the Australia team everyone ridiculed; often it felt like a failure by one of the sons was a failure by both.
Australian batsmen seldom fail at home. Since Shaun Marsh's career started, Australia top-six players have averaged 53 with the bat at home; Shaun Marsh has gone at 41. In an era when Australian batsmen average far more at home than away, Marsh only averages four more at home. It is at home where Australian players build their legacy; most of the country watch cricket for those couple of magic months when Australia is at its hottest. Marsh's best work has come in Sri Lanka, where he made two big hundreds. He made a good, albeit lucky, score at the start of the last South Africa tour. Marsh has five Test hundreds in 27 matches, which is fine. But home audiences have only seen two of them.
Marsh also has one of those bodies that breaks down. There is a point at which you are unlucky and fans are sympathetic to your plight, and then it tips over and fans see your injuries as your fault. Marsh is ensconced in the second part of that phase. Now when he's injured, people often can't remember if it is his back, calf or hamstring, and by this point, they don't care. It means he has played a Test every year since his 2011 debut, except 2013, despite only playing 27; this is his eighth recall. He's always around, just not always there.
Australians don't play the moving ball well, and neither does Marsh, despite being an opening batsman for Western Australia. According to CricViz, coming into this series, Marsh averaged 17.60 against balls moving off the seam by more than 0.75 degrees, versus an average of 40.60 against ball that seamed less; and he averaged 11.60 to balls swinging more than 1.50 degrees, but 36.00 to balls that swung less.
"Marsh looks pretty, when he is batting well. Batsmen who look like it's easy are the ones who annoy people the most"
Marsh, despite his decent hundreds ratio, has an underwhelming Test average. He has batted in all of the top-six positions, without specialising in any. He was averaging 36 coming into this Ashes, but has pushed it up higher during this series, with a not-out 126 in Adelaide. In 47 innings, he has only two not outs. But his average is low because of how often he's out early in his innings. A third of his innings don't cross 5, which places him fourth worst during his career for top-six batsmen with over 20 Tests to their name.
And he looks pretty, when he is batting well. It's as if he's got the feet up, playing games on his phone. Batsmen who look like it's easy are the ones who annoy people the most (see Bell, IR).
To recap: Marsh didn't 'knock down the door', has to overcome people thinking there is nepotism involved in his selection, is fighting against the canary-yellow memories of his father, has his brother's failures attached to him, doesn't cash in at home, can't play the moving ball, gets injured a lot, bats in every spot, has been in the side on nine occasions, doesn't get many not outs, does get a lot of scores 5 and under, and makes the game look so damn easy people seem to hate it when he goes out.
There's a reason he is there. Because Australian selectors don't trust the other options.
With Australia 3 for 258, Ian Healy was talking on commentary about how he hoped Australia would be creative with their declaration. If it seemed too early to speculate, it was. But that is how the Channel 9 team commentate, and Steve Smith was batting. From the moment Smith went out, the word declaration evaporated from the commentary vocabulary.
There is a gap between Smith and the rest of the world, and that includes Smith and the other Australians. In the last two years, Smith averages 71.31 in Tests; no one else for Australia is above 50. Smith has made 31% of the top six's runs (22% overall). There is no one following Australian cricket who could argue he isn't carrying the team's batting. The second-best average in the last two years is Handscomb, at 47.35, and he's been dropped. Below him is David Warner, who was struggling in this series until this Test. That rounds out all the players averaging over 44. Usman Khawaja's figure is 41.58, and his place is under threat. Adam Voges (38.08) retired after being dropped, and Matt Renshaw (36.64) was let go before the series. So that makes three players who have been dropped, one who might be dropped, Warner and Shaun Marsh, whose average in that time is 41.68.
Based on his own numbers, Marsh should be in trouble, and if you take out his Ashes scores, he shouldn't have been picked at all. But Marsh was not picked in isolation, he is part of a team, and he's there because Australia's batting is broken. Marsh's recall wasn't just because of some okay Shield form; he is also there because Australia had picked a wicketkeeper who hadn't scored a hundred since One Direction formed, and they spent most of last summer picking the first person to respond to their WhatsApp message. They know Shaun Marsh. They might know what he does wrong, but they also know what he does.
The first is how he plays spin, really damn well. He averages 60 against spin, which is enough on its own, but he also makes hundreds against spin outside Australia, so he fills two holes this team has straight away. In this series, he has averaged 94 against spin for once out. With him and Smith being the best-performing batsmen, Moeen Ali has been an endless creepy void in England's bowling line up.
Also, although Marsh doesn't score that many runs, the few times he has scored they have been important, or tough. Not one, but two hundreds in Sri Lanka; the first-day hundred in South Africa against Steyn and family; the 236-minute 53 to help draw the game on the fifth day in Ranchi; the patient 66 in Bangalore, which was Australia's top score; and his 51 at the Gabba that came after a collapse and the whole country saying he shouldn't be in the team. The hundred that followed it in the second Test was the reason Australia won the match, and even more important because Smith and Warner failed to make fifties. And then he made 61 at the MCG.
It was a slow, tough innings that ended just as he had the chance to put England out of the game, and also when Australia were without Smith. And it was only 61. But he had to start twice, fighting his problems, and he then had to face the second new ball, which is not his strong point. With England starting their innings so well, it still might not be enough - which seems like the story of Marsh's career.
At his age, with his body and record, he will probably never be a consistent Test match player for Australia. There are too many flaws in his game, and too little time to sort them all out. But in this batting line-up, there will be times when Australia need him. He won't stand up for all of them, and sometimes he won't stand up for long enough, but in this series, Marsh has been given three tough jobs, and has accepted each time.
Even if his career finishes in another duckathon like he performed against India, or he fades away like his mate Voges, or one of his injuries stops him, he will have this one series, when Australia needed him, and he stood up, hung on, and Australia won the Ashes.