Mitch Marsh becomes officially the worst Test No.6
CRICKET: Mitch Marsh fans (all three of you) look away now.
The all-rounder has hardly enjoyed a sparkling introduction to Test cricket and Australia's tour of India is proving to be the most forgettable chapter of all in a book that already makes for excruciating reading.
Marsh was caught at short leg for 13 on Tuesday to go with his first innings duck as Australia fell well short in its chase of 188, all out for 112 in a performance that saw India level the four-match series at one game apiece.
Marsh's scores on this tour read: four, 31, 0 and 13. It's hardly the contribution an international side requires of someone batting in the top six, and the run of mediocrity has brought with it an historic new low for the 25-year-old.
Of all number six batsmen who have played Test cricket for any country (with a minimum of 20 Tests to their name while occupying that place in the batting order), Marsh officially has the worst batting record in history. He has batted 25 times at fourth drop and scored 473 runs at an average of 19.7. He has registered just one half century (53) and recorded four ducks.
The next worst number six batsman is South Africa's JP Duminy, who has played one more innings than Marsh in the position but has him covered comfortably in the run-making department. The left-hander has scored 622 runs in 26 digs at an average of 25.91 with one century and four fifties.
Duminy has fared better in other positions though, which explains why he's in the South African side playing New Zealand right now. All up the 32-year-old has played 42 Tests and scored 1982 runs at an average of 34.77 with six tons and eight fifties.
When you take into account his complete Test record (Marsh has at times been shuffled up and down the order) the numbers are only the tiniest bit better, but still not acceptable for an Australian cricketer whose primary job is to score runs.
In 21 Tests, he's scored 674 runs at an average of 21.74 with two half centuries.
Dropped during the home summer after scoring nought and 26 in the first Test against South Africa in Perth, Marsh's selection in the Indian touring party came as a shock given he hadn't exactly gone back to Shield cricket and set the world on fire with his blade.
He got a gig on the plane to Pune because of the Australian selectors' obsession with playing an all-rounder meant they valued his work with the ball. India can produce flat pitches that prove hard work for fast bowlers, so Australia was keen to have a fifth bowling option to ease the load on the rest of the attack. But with the surfaces dished up in Pune and Bangalore, his seamers have barely been required.
The diabolical nature of the Pune deck meant spinners Steve O'Keefe and Nathan Lyon did the bulk of the work (sending down 54 of the 74 overs the Aussie attack bowled) and in the second Test, Steve Smith called upon Marsh for only five overs.
The righthander's woeful Test batting record combined with his apparent discomfort against India's spinners on helpful tracks, means Marsh's position for the third game in Ranchi will no doubt come under heavy scrutiny.
The one saving grace for the West Australian is no other Aussie has nailed down the number six spot in recent times. Callum Ferguson and Nic Maddinson both failed when given their opportunities in the baggy green this past summer and were subsequently axed.
Australia's number sixes have contributed just 151 runs in the past 14 Test innings, the equal lowest aggregate managed by that middle order position in the past 125 years.
In commentary on Tuesday, Michael Clarke recounted how he asked Steve Smith why Marsh was selected to tour India. The answer he reportedly got was: "He is playing spin better than anybody."
Perhaps that was true on unresponsive Australian pitches, but he certainly hasn't impressed on the subcontinent, where he's fallen to Ravid Jadeja twice and Ravi Ashwin once.
People rave about Marsh's potential and he regularly produces scintillating displays in the coloured clothing, but so far he's been wildly unsuccessful in transferring that raw talent into the Test arena.
We're all still waiting for that breakthrough performance where he stamps his authority as a Test cricketer, but the Australian public won't be willing to wait much longer.