Mitchell and Shaun Marsh on the SCG honour board after their centuries against England on January 7, 2017.
Mitchell and Shaun Marsh on the SCG honour board after their centuries against England on January 7, 2017.

Ashes surprise packet fulfills Lehmann prophecy

I HAD a conversation with Darren Lehmann during the last Ashes series and he said the two guys he liked were the Marsh brothers - the guy he really liked was Shaun Marsh - and that they had a huge future.

The way they have batted in this series shows what can happen if people go away and work on their game but it is also good selection.

With Shaun in particular, people were saying that he's had umpteen chances already but I have to say, within half an hour of him getting back in the side, I watched him bat and I thought, 'wow, he looks an organised player!'

Just looking at him bat you wonder why he hasn't had more success in international cricket: he looks organised, he wants to bat long, he's a good player of spin, he leaves the ball well outside off stump, he just looks a good player and he knows his game.

I guess the amount of chances he's had and the number of times he's been in and out makes you hungry. He probably came in thinking he was drinking at the last chance saloon and that the 30s and 40s that some of the England boys get are not good enough.

He has been good enough and has gone on to get big hundreds. I always like the tempo of his innings, I've seen him bat throughout this Ashes series and he plays the situation, he never completely goes into his bunker and he is never completely over-attacking, his tempo of batting is absolutely spot on for Test match cricket.

A prediction fulfilled. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)
A prediction fulfilled. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

The Australian batsmen still have plenty to prove though. England have not got 20 wickets in any Test match in this series and they look a very one-dimensional side when the ball isn't moving around, this Australia batting line-up is similar.

They are very good at home when the ball is not moving around, they have been pretty flat pitches with a Kookaburra ball but what they need to put to bed is the idea that when there is any kind of lateral movement, whether it be seam and swing like we see in England, spin in India - even Bangladesh where they drew the series last year - that they struggle, playing with hard hands and hitting through the ball.

Usman Khawaja has had well-known struggles against spin and then in the first Test of this series got out to Moeen Ali straight away, he's got better as the series has progressed. Mitch Marsh has historically got hard hands and goes at the ball hard but he showed at the MCG he can play in a different.

There are good signs there but it is something they still have to prove and the series against South Africa in March will test them. We've talked about the Australia attack being very good but if Dale Steyn is fit - and that is a massive if - then I see that South Africa attack of Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander, backed up by Keshav Maharaj, as the best in world cricket.

That will be a good test, as India are finding out at the moment, for any batting line-up.

The Aussie attack is good, make no mistake, but the key for them is also to stay fit, we saw mid-series that Mitchell Starc had to be rested for a game and they need backup bowlers for the three quick lads.

Pat Cummins celebrates dismissing England's James Vince.
Pat Cummins celebrates dismissing England's James Vince.

As for England, everyone knows the step up to Test cricket is hard but what really frustrates me, and it reflects poorly on county cricket really, is the repetitive nature of people's dismissals when they come into the England side.

Whether it be Ben Duckett in Bangladesh and India, getting out the same way to Mehedi Hasan and Ravi Ashwin every time, bowled showing his stumps, Adam Lyth nicking off to fifth stump deliveries around waist height, Gary Ballance being pushed back and then the sucker-punch full delivery or Tom Westley in the summer with his closed bat face, it says something their technique and that they're getting runs in county cricket. How are they doing that?

It also says something about them individually that they're not putting those shots away, they're not changing at all - James Vince just keeps getting out the same way. When they're at the crease and playing look like Test players, Vince in particular, but you know what's coming - and that is away from home.

Next summer against Pakistan and India with the Duke ball moving around, if your No 3 is so flirty outside off stump you're asking for trouble.

You're hoping for people to step up, you look at some of the greats and Steve Waugh, for example, took a long time to grasp Test cricket.

He had to put away one shot, the hook, because he realised it was a shot that could get him out and even though he looked uncomfortable at times fending it off, he never took it on and look at the career he ended up having - but you're talking about one of the most mentally tough cricketers there has ever been.

Some of these guys just need to toughen up mentally, I'd say. Mark Stoneman is slightly different, since he was hit by the short ball, he has definitely looked more vulnerable in his last three or four innings and that is one of the big differences between county and international cricket.

In county cricket you'd go off and play another game, people would bowl you some bad deliveries and people might not work you out, in Test cricket there is no let-up.

Mason Crane took 1/193 from 48 overs. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)
Mason Crane took 1/193 from 48 overs. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Mason Crane has discovered that, too. He has shown a lot of character having carried the drinks and not played for the first four Tests to come in and play at Sydney and bowl the way he has done.

The thing we mustn't do - and we always do this when players first come in - is talk him up now, and then if it isn't going well for him in a couple of Tests time in New Zealand, start knocking him and saying we need to get rid of him.

Bowling leg-spin is an incredibly difficult skill and he has done it pretty well, the figures won't tell you that but if you look at what he came out with, he did all right.

England are a one-dimensional side that can win well at home, they beat South Africa and the Windies convincingly in the summer, but the moment the ball starts moving around they are a one-dimensional side. Just look at the amount of overs they have bowled in the last two Test matches.

If you are the Manchester City or Manchester United manager and you're playing at home you'll have a plan but away from home you might play completely differently. The England cricket team have just played the same side, no matter what the conditions.

They need to start developing a side to win away from home when the ball is not moving and Mason Crane - or whoever, a spinner - needs to be part of those plans. Crane has to start in New Zealand, he has to be given a chance in the two Tests out there.

This article was originally published by Sky Sports and reproduced with permission.


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