Western Australia coach and former Australia batsman Justin Langer has touted Mitchell Marsh as an Australia captain of the future, while declaring the national selectors should include him in the team for the third Ashes Test in Perth on what is likely to be a pancake flat WACA Ground pitch.
While typically hesitant to change a winning team, Langer said that the likely conditions for the Perth Test meant that Australia would need a fifth bowling option and that Marsh was ready to step in, having returned to the bowling crease after shoulder surgery. He has also been in outstanding touch with the bat as captain of Western Australia.
Should Marsh play, he would more than likely take the place of the Victoria batsman Pete Handscomb, who has been struggling for runs and technical cohesion at No. 5 so far in this series. The next question would be where Marsh sits in the batting order, either at No. 6 where he batted previously or perhaps at No. 7 beneath the wicketkeeper Tim Paine, with greater licence to freely attack the bowlers.
“Australia are 2-0 up in the Ashes, I never like to change a winning team,” Langer said in Perth. “That said, if there’s any concerns about any of the bowlers and if the wicket looks anything like what we’ve played on in the last two Shield games here then you’d definitely like to have another fast-bowling option I think. Because spin-bowling doesn’t usually have the impact here as it does other grounds. So maybe Nathan Lyon won’t have the same impact he’s had in Adelaide and Brisbane.
“Mitchell Marsh, like a lot of young players, you get in early then part of the journey is you get dropped. Then you’ve got a choice to make, you can either fade away or get better. The last three months he’s probably scored 1000 runs for Western Australia – if you look at the JLT Cup, he was unbelievable. His presence at the crease, like his brother, was sublime in the one-day tournament. He’s come out, got 400 or so runs in Shield cricket so far. He’s got 190 here at the WACA where the Test match is, so he’s going from strengths to strengths.
“He’s also captain of Western Australia now, showing great leadership and doing a very good job of that. And he’s bowling again, so you can understand it’s zero surprise to me, as it has been throughout his whole career, that he’s an attractive player for the selectors. It’s a no-brainer really. Whether he forces himself into the team, time will tell. From an absolutely biased Western Australia cricket coach point of view, I hope he does but it means someone will have to miss out – and probably nobody deserves to miss out when they’re 2-0 up time will tell, but he’s certainly done everything he can to knock hard to get into the team.”
Having made the choice to elevate Marsh to the captaincy in the off-season, Langer said he had expected the allrounder to be a popular leader in the dressing room but that he had been pleasantly surprised by the 26-year-old’s tactical sharpness. “He’s probably exceeded expectations actually, he’s really taken it on,” Langer said. “I knew he’s a very popular person. And sometimes leadership isn’t a popularity contest – and he’ll keep growing into that, but I’ve been really impressed with him strategically on the field.
“But he’s seen a lot of cricket, he’s been in cricket change rooms almost literally since he was born. He’s seen a lot of cricket, and I should probably have never underestimated that, but he’s strategically very good. And he’s been excellent on and off the field. The captaincy and leadership is going to be a big part of his re-emergence in international cricket.”
Langer revealed that he would speak with the WACA curator Matthew Page and suggest to him that the pitch be left with some decent grass coverage to encourage some movement off the pitch and through the air. The sight of the ball moving around during the day-night Test in Adelaide excited Langer due to the even contest between bat and ball – something he views as key to the future of the game’s longest format.
“The last few games it’s been flat. I hope Pagey [curator Matthew Page] leaves some good green grass on it, that way it usually swings a bit which is great for the game of cricket and it usually carries through to the keeper, so the slips come into the game,” Langer said. “I hope that happens, I’ll probably tell Pagey that. I haven’t been out there yet, I hope it’s a great contest.
“In terms of a bigger picture discussion, Test cricket will thrive and grow and live forever if we get the wickets right. And people might think I’m crazy but if they get the wickets right around the world in Test cricket, we were all enthralled watching that last Test match at Adelaide Oval. Pink ball under lights but it was actually swinging and really good players like Shaun Marsh could get 100s. I hope it’s a wicket where there is an even contest between bat and ball, if you do that, people will be glued to their seats at the ground or at home. It makes for a great contest, that’s what Test cricket is all about.
“The last Test was absolutely enthralling. We were playing at the MCG all day then we’d go back and watch cricket for the next three or four hours, it was brilliant cricket. It goes to show how important one, day-night cricket is, [it’s a] great success. Two, how important getting the wickets right are, when you play on wickets where there’s contests, then Test cricket will thrive and grow if we can continue playing Test matches like the last one it’s really exciting cricket, but 9-1 [record] so traditionally Australia are very hard to beat here at the WACA. Id’ rather be in Australia’s shoes than England’s shoes.”