Once upon a time, a man played for Australia. In fact, he captained the team. But it soon became obvious he was not fit for the role.
At times he was too prone to aggression. Mostly he just dithered. Before too long, to the great relief of every Aussie fan and his own team-mates, he was dumped from the top job.
His name was Kevin Rudd.
Incompetence at the top level is not tolerated in this country. That’s why Tony Abbott got the axe too.
Cricket, like politics and the workplaces most of us trudge to each Monday morning, is also a meritocracy. Which begs the question: why are Shaun and Mitchell Marsh still playing for Australia?
It’s difficult to write a piece like this without coming across as sour. The Marsh brothers seem like really good guys. Shaun, at his best, has a reassuring poise and calm when he bats. Mitchell looks like he might explode at any minute in a fantastic firework of Freddy Flintoffness.
But what can you say? The numbers don’t lie. The Marsh brothers, for now at least, are not good enough.
Shaun made a great start to his Text career in 2011. His first four scores were 141, 81, 18 and 44. His next seven were 0, 0, 3, 0, 11, 3 and 0. Another century followed, then another string of scores that read like an emergency phone number.
In last summer’s Boxing Day Test against India, Marsh made the most painstaking, and painful, 99 you’ve ever seen. Just when Australia really needed quick runs, Marsh stuttered along at 2.7 per over.
It was exactly, to the letter, the type of innings Australia didn’t need. While it showcased the poise and technique which makes Marsh a valuable cricketer in this age of T20 sloggers, it was a case of right skillset, wrong time. And it ended farcically with Marsh run out off a direct hit, one run short of what would have been a very painful century.
Ring a bell? Yep. Shaun Marsh was run out in the first innings at Adelaide too. Those run outs are the emblem of a career that has just fallen short of its ground. That calm, mature head deserts him at crucial moments. Marsh’s age and batting average are both 32. That says plenty.
As for Mitchell, well now, that’s an interesting one. When Australians cricket selectors pick guys on potential, beautiful things can happen. Often you end up with a Steve Waugh or a Shane Warne. But often you don’t.
Mitchell Marsh looks like and smells like a really exciting, talented cricketer, but his stats are even worse than his brother’s. He now averages just 23 with the bat in 10 Tests. In case you think that’s an anomaly, he averages a not much more impressive 31 in state cricket.
Test batsmen should average 40, minimum. Where are the extra 15-20 runs per innings going to come from? Forget the wickets he’s taking. Yep, his bowling is terrific. But a number six batsman is a batsman first and foremost. He is part of the Australian Test batting lineup. This, by definition, means he must be very good at batting, which he is not. Or not yet anyway.
Ah, but he will be, say the pundits. This weekend was weird. On both Channel Nine and ABC Radio, commentator after commentator spoke of Mitch’s potential, about how he was a work in progress. This they said without irony. As though the Australian Test team is a place you go to learn cricket rather than prove you’re really good at it.
Chris Rogers on ABC radio was the loudest critic, picking apart various technical aspects of Mitchell’s game. For much of the weekend he stopped short of bagging his former teammate. Until yesterday. When Mitch Marsh departed after trying to hit two sixes in a row, Rogers could hold it in no longer.
“That’s not good enough from Mitch Marsh,” Rogers said. “That’s the one thing that McCullum wants. He wants him to play a rash shot. He’s just hit him [Kiwi bowler Mitch Santner] for six, he’s doing it easy. Just hit the ball on the ground. He’s just got to learn. That’s not intelligent cricket. He’s opened the door here for New Zealand.”
The question is whether the selectorial door remains open for both Marsh brothers. One of the images of the weekend was of the Marsh boys’ dad Geoff, who played 50 Tests for Australia with an equally mediocre average of 33. Marsh senior slapped his legs in frustration twice when his sons were dismissed cheaply in the first innings.
In the second innings, with their Test careers on the line, both brothers performed better. Australia might well have lost the match without Shaun's assured 49. But the fact he couldn't finish things off left the whole of Australia slapping its collective legs in exasperation. Mitch's quickfire 28 helped too. But the manner of his dismissal left questions lingering in the air like smoke after fireworks.
Whether the Marsh boys get more chances depends on another man named Marsh. That would be Rodney, head of the national selection panel. In his defence, there aren’t too many other options right now. But most Australian cricket fans know which way they’d swing, given the choice.