The accidental greatness of Mitch Marsh

The bison takes over Leeds.

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Mitch Marsh was bred from cricketer, which also produced another one. There was nothing accidental about this giant Nepo baby taking over an Ashes Test.

Yet, coming into this Test match Mitch Marsh had the equal worst batting average of any number six batter in the history of the game.

There are caveats here, like the fact he can bowl. Generally, the players with the lower batting averages at number six have some bowling - or keeping - skill. And also worth noting that Marsh is not the worst. There would be players who never made enough runs to last long enough to make this list.

But number six is the easiest batting position in cricket, so it’s not ideal to be last. Or after today, second last.

That is not to say Marsh is the all-time worst. Javed Omar of Bangladesh obviously has that covered.

And as bad as he has been, his average isn’t that much worse than Zak Crawley. The one thing they have in common is impact. Even today when Crawley made only 33, Australia had two keep three fielders on the boundary. They had to chase some leather. He played such a dismissive pull shot that I would have been embarrassed to turn up at the bowlers’ union after. But then he was gone.

Marsh didn’t go early, today, but he was dropped. And that was the difference between Australia being massively behind, and having a big chance of winning. In fact, at the moment he is probably the difference between them being in the game or not.

And ofcourse is classic Mitch Marsh style it is all so accidental. He clearly was not supposed to play in this game, Cameron Green’s injury opened the way, and the big bison charged through that opening like he wanted to hurt someone. From the first overpitched ball that he smoked through cover, it was clear that he was going to be a problem.

In 2020 he did not play a first-class game, and again in 2022. Before today he had one this year. When Marsh was playing a lot of red-ball cricket, he was terrible in Tests. Now his fitness has stopped him from playing it and he destroys England.

But this is not the first time Australia has sort of half committed to him by accident and he has been awesome. Marsh’s greatest innings was T20 World Cup final. He plays in the West Indies and they throw him up the order because not everyone is there. He then gets dropped mid-way through the World Cup. And takes down New Zealand in the final.

This was different because at least Marsh had proven his worth in white ball cricket. In red ball, whether it be Test or first-class, he has been ordinary. This is currently the only year he’s averring over 50 ever.

And while you don’t expect a player like him to make that mark regularly. He does get on good runs at times, and so never doing that for a year shows that he was yet work  out his best method of making consistent runs.

Today he had a huge advantage because England were not expecting him to be any good. But more than that, they were not exacting him to play.

Even if they had a hint, there is a difference between knowing he was going to play, and just thinking he might. Marsh is however a fairly simple batter to work out. He loves length.

These are his strike rates in Tests. You can see that compared to most players he just absolutely wants you to pitch up, or drop short, and then that happens he humps it. There was a pull shot off Chris Woakes that was so disrespectful Woakes’ family should sue. And he was the same with full balls. One slap over point was unnecessary violence. And he also smashed Mark Wood away on a day when Australia looked terrified of him.

One reason England struggled to find the length to Marsh was he moved around in the crease a little bit. Even taking steps down towards the bowler at times. This isn’t his normal style of batting, but so many modern players do it now that it’s not surprising he is doing it as well. To someone like him who drives like a train through a cheesecake, he made England make more errors than usual.

But England almost missed something today. These are the averages of Marsh by the four most important zones in cricket against pace. England bowled a lot on a length outside off stump, where Marsh averages 20. Which is not great, and when they did this he couldn’t score. However, they only bowled eight balls on a length on the stumps, where he averaged 2. It is actually 2.62. So let’s call it three and agree that it makes no difference at all as its all terrible.

He has eight dismissals there, but despite playing England more than any other team, they have only ever dismissed him once with that line and length.

And guess who the only team to get consistently whacked by Marsh is? Is this a coincidence? I don’t know. But maybe aiming for the top of the knee roll of a tall guy who is desperate to drive and sometimes loses his shape is the way forward.

Because certainly, everything else they tried went to hell.

I wrote in 2015 that Ben Stokes or Mitch Marsh had huge boom or bust potential. As is always the way with all-rounders. They were either going to be legends or punchlines. Stokes is the former, and Marsh has mostly stayed the latter.

Marsh plays up as well. He once direct messaged me on Twitter asking me to tell a girl he liked about the time he got hit really hard in the balls. It seemed a pretty out-of-the-box dating method, but I was happy to try to help because while Marsh has not always been great, he is genuine.

Today, for at least one day, it would be hard to see this as anything other than a great innings.  The average is still low, but the many impacts of the ball hitting his bat were huge. This was another accidental barnstormer from Mitch Marsh.