One of the stand outs of Australia’s 13-man squad, announced at the end of June, for the upcoming two test tour of Bangladesh was the absence of Shaun Marsh’s name. This essentially brings the boom down on Marsh’s 23 game career donning the baggy green.
Despite having obvious batting talent in all conditions, Marsh has been in and out of the Australian team for the past 6 years, his lack of consistency proving frustrating for selectors. His axing from the Test 11 is understandable considering his advancing age of 34 at a time when the team is embracing transition.
But the timing of this decision was a tad awry, when you consider the tour of Bangladesh will be dominated by spin. Greater wisdom might have been in postponing Marsh’s axing till after the Bangladesh tour with Australia’s next visit to Asia touted for 2019. This is particularly apparent when you consider that Marsh is one of Australia’s few trusted batsmen against spin bowling. He has an average of 41.84 with two centuries from his 7 Tests in Asian conditions.
It leaves this likely top 7, based on Asian performances as follows:
Matt Renshaw- 4 tests, average 29.00, 0 centuries
Dave Warner – 13 tests, average 30.38, 1 century
Steven Smith-11 tests, average 51.47, 4 centuries
Peter Handscombe- 4 tests, average 28.28, no centuries
Usman Khawaja-4 tests, average 19.16, no centuries
Glenn Maxwell- 5 tests, average 23.90, 1 century
Matthew Wade – 7 tests, average 25.75, no centuries
Only Captain Steven Smith has a better average than Marsh, with the rest of the likely top 7 being 11 runs shy of Marsh’s average and having the same 2 centuries combined.
The only other options to the top 7 are the use of precocious youngsters Hilton Cartwright or Ashton Agar. Cartwright is a brilliant young batting talent dominating state cricket at number three for Western Australia. But, it would be a huge call throwing him in an Asian cauldron and expecting him to be a factor.
The other aspect about Marsh is his versatility in the line up with him able to bat anywhere in the top 6. With the squad not containing a reserve opening batsman this might become an unlikely factor of the tour, particularly with Dave Warner ending the tour of India resembling a man broken, bereft of how to play against spin.
It brings a focus on Usman Khawaja to assume the same role as Marsh did for the team. The same Khawaja that looked completely and utterly clueless against spin when facing Sri Lanka in 2016. Khawaja was utterly humiliated after having his middle stump pegged back when he inexplicably shouldered arms to Sri Lankan off spinner Dilruwan Perera’s arm ball, expecting the ball heading towards middle to spin away. It saw him dumped from the third test of that series. This was followed up by an inclusion in the squad for Australia’s next tour of Asia in the 4 Test series against India early this year, but never part of the final 11. The choice of Khawaja seems to assume he will magically find a level of competence against spin despite having no faith from selectors in the recent past.
It also pays a lack of respect to Bangladesh on a number of levels, first and foremost the threat of their spinners, with the leading duo of left armer Shakib al Hasan and the young phenom off spinner Mehidy Hasan being comparable to any in Test cricket. These lead men are ably supported by the wily left armer Taijul Islam who fulfils a crucial defensive role in the attack. This in turn allows the other two to operate as strike bowlers, with attacking mindsets, accentuated by the suffocating nature Taijul imposes on batsmen’s scoring.
The other aspect will be the pitches in Bangladesh that are likely to be similar to the ones that England encountered in their tour of 2016. In a word – ‘snake pits’- with the ball spitting, rearing and spinning square from well before lunch on day one of both the test matches played in that series. After looking so inept in Sri Lanka, due to his inability to read the subtle variations, it puts more acid on Khawaja with his struggles magnified by the ball spinning. This seemingly misguided faith could see another connection with that Sri Lankan tour, with the prospect of the team suffering a similar humiliating series result due to overlooking proven players in preference for players ill-equipped for the demanding conditions.