Mitchell Marsh's swing provides late relief for Australia

Mitchell Marsh celebrates the wicket of Sam Curran Getty Images

Damien Fleming never played a Test in England. Had he done so, it might have looked a little bit like this.

In the somewhat flattened atmosphere of a Test played after the Ashes had been retained by Australia, Mitchell Marsh came into the team to swing the Dukes ball around corners, in the process sparing the blushes of several fatiguing team-mates as they dropped Joe Root no fewer than three times.

The decision to bowl first, by Australia's captain Tim Paine after the team's leaders were not exactly clear on what exactly to do should they win the toss, was quickly the source of plenty of criticism. But in truth the green grass on the pitch, a lush square and mild September weather kept the ball in good condition all day, promoting enough nip off the seam and curve through the air to create chances throughout.

A greater problem for the tourists was the missed chances, Peter Siddle at fine leg, Paine snatching in front of David Warner at first slip and Steven Smith diving from second slip towards third, all spurning Root's offerings of an expressway into England's middle order. At the same time, Siddle struggled to summon the accuracy for which he had been chosen to play, leaving Paine somewhat flummoxed in mid-afternoon as Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood had endured heavy workloads and Nathan Lyon was struggling with his spinning finger and his line.

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Marsh, though, had come freshly into the team, eager to demonstrate the judicious work he had done on his bowling since both his performance and his fitness had been subject to stinging criticism from the team's leaders when he appeared briefly against India during the preceding home summer. Not only had Marsh been dumped from the Test team and the vice-captaincy but he had also been cancelled out from Australia's World Cup plans and their contract list, replaced by Marcus Stoinis.

Facing a fairly slim future unless he reshaped his body and his game, Marsh returned to some familiar voices in Perth: the batting coach Scott Meuleman and the WACA assistant coach Kade Harvey. Among the various things they worked on was to straighten up Marsh's bowling action, making it easier for him to get his wrist behind the ball and duly generate movement through the air - a useful option that would serve as a change-up from the wobble seam and accuracy preferred by the balance of the Ashes pace attack.

For just as the Australian collective strategy for moving the ball off the pitch was sound, so too was the concept of having another bowler capable of providing a change-up should the conditions lend themselves to him. Fleming, of course, had done that beautifully for Australia whenever fit between 1994 and 2001 - that year's Oval Test was probably his best chance of trying his swerving methods in a Test in England, but the selectors stuck instead with the proven combination used over the preceding four matches.

Since then, there have been few Australian pace bowlers as wedded to swinging the ball as Fleming had been, even allowing for the days when Mitchell Johnson and then Mitchell Starc swung the ball into right-handed batsmen from their left-armer's angle. Ben Hilfenhaus had a strong tour of England in 2009 that may have been better remembered if the Oval Test had not been lost, but since then it has been rare to see lavish swing.

Marsh, though, quickly found the changes to his action, aided by some additional tutelage from Ryan Harris on the Australia A tour, had greatly enhanced his value as a change bowler. In the meantime, the selectors wearied of Stoinis' underperformance in the World Cup, gave Marsh the chance to press ahead by omitting his West Australian team-mate altogether from the 25-man preliminary squad for a pre-Ashes camp in Southampton.

The Australian brains trust learned a lot of last-minute information about their cattle for this Ashes series in the internal trial match that subsequently took place at the Rose Bowl. Marnus Labuschagne fought hard with the bat, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins, James Pattinson and Peter Siddle starred with the ball and Marsh contributed with both disciplines in each innings, rounding things off with a spell of 5 for 34 in the second innings.

Among his six wickets in the match was an away swinger from around the wicket that pinned Travis Head lbw - a harbinger of what was ahead for the vice-captain - but also a clear sign that Marsh's skills had improved usefully. He was kept in reserve for four Tests, bowling well and batting handily in the tour games in Worcester and Derby, before finally gaining a call-up for the Oval. What followed after tea, as Marsh partnered with Cummins, was a quality spell of swing bowling, which arguably prospered for its contrast to so much of the Australian bowling that preceded it.

Johnny Bairstow was thudded on the pad by an inswinging yorker after a series of deliveries running away from him, Sam Curran nicked one going across towards the slips, and Chris Woakes played around another yorker that this time straightened down the line of the leg stump. Marsh celebrated these wickets with the air of a man who knew this may be the start of a fresh phase in his wildly oscillating career, while his team-mates rounded him with a combination of happiness for a popular tourist and relief at having their workload lightened just a little.

There was to be irony late in the day when Marsh, returning to try to dislodge Jos Buttler, pulled up with cramp after 15 overs for the day. Hobbling off for some treatment having bowled the first ball of his 16th over, he was replaced at the bowling crease by none other than the tireless Cummins, who after 48 overs at Old Trafford had back up with no fewer than 22.5 here. But even as England wriggled to the close eight down, the Australians knew they had a relatively simple task on the second morning, thanks largely to Marsh's contribution.

Plenty more, of course, remains to be done before Marsh can be regarded as a swing bowler in Fleming's class or an allrounder anywhere near Ben Stokes. But there was another cricketer who did get a chance in that 2001 Oval Test, and made the most of it to be a fixture in the Test team for the next six Australian summers. His name was Justin Langer.