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The Ashes 2015: Mitchell Marsh steps up to fill the all-rounder role

The Ashes 2015 scoreboardMarsh’s two crucial breakthroughsSpectator has players in stitches
Nanjing Night Net

Poor old Shane Watson. Of all the days when an image of him posing shirtless in the Australian changerooms had to emerge, it was the day his successor Mitch Marsh took the two biggest England wickets on offer at Lord’s as Australia nudged closer to victory in the second Test. The kindest that could be said is that Australia’s old and new No 6s both flexed their muscles this day.

Shane Watson poses in the changeroom.

For Australia, it was a day of gains upon gains: a winning position reinforced, wickets for all bowlers, and in the last session a half-century for David Warner that may yet prove to be the loosening of a torrent. But the most gratifying development was Marsh’s brace. First, just before lunch, he bowled Ben Stokes for 87, breaking a three-hour yin and yang partnership with Alastair Cook. Then just before tea, he bowled Cook for 96. For six stoic hours, Cook had reprised his leviathan 2010-11 role as the man who never went away. Now he became the man who didn’t get there, not quite. Within 12 overs, England were all out.

Marsh’s wickets were as an all-rounder’s should be, few but select. Both came from the inside edge, but it would be wrong to think of them as flukes. A tall man as per the apparent Australian job specifications, he was able to take advantage of a hint of variable bounce at the Members’ End at Lord’s.

All-round effort: Mitchell Marsh took the crucial wickets but Australia’s bowlers hunted as a pack. Photo: Reuters

Stokes perished the way he plays, trying to force. Cook’s shot could not have been more out of character. He imposes himself by not trying to impose himself. A batsman without vanity, he plays the shots he knows he can – cut, on-drive, pull – and doesn’t play the ones he can’t. The cover drive is an example. He had hit only one previously in the innings, and although it went for four, that seemed to take even him by surprise. Now, fatally, he aimed another, at Marsh. Cook slumped to one knee; better than anyone, he knew what had been lost in that moment.

Shattered: Alastair Cook and his stumps. Photo: Reuters

Why? In six hours, even a man with his epic concentration span will make mistakes, and get away with them one day, but not the next, and the inside edge is cricket’s Russian roulette. But this might be called a forced error. The pressure had been compounding all innings, from the Australian score that never seemed to come nearer, Australian bowling that was controlled and unrelenting as it was not in Cardiff, and the periodic fall of wickets.

Cook had absorbed it as only he can. Somehow, he manages to project intensity and serenity simultaneously. Mitch Johnson struck him a painful blow on the elbow: he winced, waited, went on. Johnson chipped him, and Cook looked at him as if to ask why he bothered, and did as he did to any offering from Johnson that might have caused him grief, let it through to the keeper, and Johnson didn’t bother again.

But with a century in reach, perhaps a voice in the back of even his monkish mind identified Marsh not as a relieving bowler, but a relief for a batsman. That is how good attacks work, like partners in bridge, singly but in concert, dummy lead here, trump there. Really, there ought to be a column for assists on a cricket scorecard.

Australia’s bowling at Lord’s was a team affair. Mitch Starc made the instant breakthrough, unnerving England. Johnson wreaked two-over havoc. Only Johnson would take another wicket for the innings, the last, but that was not the point. Josh Hazlewood probed and pierced, Nathan Lyon would not be denied and then there was Marsh.

It would be disingenous to call his wickets turning points, because the day was always going in one direction, but they were affirming points. Necessarily, cricket on such a day is a game of waiting and watching, England’s batsmen for the rogue ball, Australia bowlers and fieldsmen for the merest chance. Two slipped by, one a catch by wicketkeeper Peter Nevill that DRS revealed to be impossible, the other a Cook pull shot so hard hit that Steve Smith found impossible to catch. But Australia’s advantage was too vast for these to affect the game.

One other catch was spilled this day, not affecting the outcome of the game, but with the potential to resonate down the series. Warner, still to break his duck, was missed by Adam Lyth in gully. Two hours later, he was 60 not out, and there was a sense that he was off the leash. Poor Lyth: in this match, he has bowled six balls, faced three, made no runs and dropped a catch. He cut a sorry figure, unlike Watto.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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