Marsh set to return to Australia’s top of the order at World Cup

September 29, 2023
Mitchell Marsh
Mitchell Marsh

BRISBANE, Australia (AP):

A month ago, Mitch Marsh thought he might have to return down the order to create room for others in Australia's preferred starting line-up at the Cricket World Cup despite his recent success batting at the top of the innings.

The man who once joked that everyone in Australia hated him because he hadn't made the most of his chances at the international level now appears to be the go-to option as an opener.

With Travis Head expected to miss at least the first half of the October 5-November 19 World Cup because of a fractured right hand, and with Steve Smith returning from injury to bat at No. 3, the best direction for Marsh to go is up.

And it would give the five-time champions serious firepower to start their innings if the big, burly allrounder can form an opening partnership with veteran David Warner like he did with Head in Australia's series win in India in March.

Australia captain Pat Cummins all but confirmed the two would open to start the World Cup following their 66-run consolation win over India in the final game of a three-game series this week. India won the first two matches.

"Potentially, Trav Head won't be ready for the start of the tournament," Cummins said when asked who might open the batting in Australia's first match against India on October 8. "But I think the way him (Marsh) and Davey (Warner) started today, it looks like a pretty dangerous combination."

Marsh's 84-ball 96 in the third match with three sixes and 13 fours had earlier helped Australia rectify their batting issues, and fellow opener Warner (56 in 34) also scored his third successive half-century.

A recent white-ball tour to South Africa, where Marsh led an injury-depleted team to a Twenty20 series sweep and a 2-0 lead in the ODI format before losing three consecutive one-dayers, hasn't dented his confidence.

"I certainly thought we started the series well. Played some good cricket, go back to the T20 series, we played some good cricket as well," Marsh said. "There's plenty of positives to take."

The Australians had a lot of experience to recall ahead of losing the first two matches -- and the three-match series -- against India, with Cummins, strike left-arm paceman Mitchell Starc, former skipper Smith and allrounder Glenn Maxwell returning from injuries.

Coach Andrew McDonald said Marsh "did an incredible job" covering for Cummins and without so many regular starters.

"We had a lot of moving parts - multiple changes each game with some injuries and making sure we're prepped as well as we can be for the World Cup," McDonald said.

Marsh will be relying for success again on his uncomplicated approach to batting in all forms of cricket. That is: see the ball, hit the ball - a long, long way.

It's been working so far in his career resurgence, which gained traction with his player of the final performance when he batted at No. 3 in Australia's first-ever Twenty20 World Cup title in 2021. It worked again in his recall to Test cricket in July after four years when he posted a run-a-ball 118 -- batting at a conventional No. 6 -- during the Ashes in England.

And it worked for him the last time Australia played white-ball cricket in India, where he averaged 97 at a strike rate well over 125 and hit a dozen sixes across three innings in his experimental rise from the middle order to replace the retired opener, Aaron Finch.

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