Rarely in sport is a battle for sixth position met with overwhelming interest, applaud or attention.
An exemption to this general rule of thumb, however, is the ongoing debate on who should bat at No.6 in Australia’s Test side this summer – Mitchell Marsh or Cameron Green.
Intrigue continues to surround which of Western Australia’s two best red-ball all-rounders will get the nod for their country in the first Test against Pakistan on December 14, with both named in Australia’s 14-man squad on Sunday.
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As David Warner’s spot in the side is all but confirmed given the structure of the announced squad, one of Green or Marsh is set to join Scott Boland and uncapped speedster Lance Morris on the sidelines for the opening Test of the summer.
With no Test cricket played for four and a half months come day one against Pakistan, the incumbent is Marsh – who replaced Green in the side for the third Test of the Ashes series after the 24-year-old suffered a minor hamstring strain.
Marsh took no time to make the most of his opportunity, blasting a run-a-ball 118 in what was one of the great Ashes hundreds of the modern era; accompanied by two crucial wickets with the ball in the same match.
Despite Marsh’s heroics, Green was recalled for the fourth Test in Manchester due to the surprise omission of spinner Todd Murphy; creating a rare crossover between the two all-rounders that saw Marsh bat at six and Green at seven.
Since his recall, Marsh’s scores of 118, 28, 51 and 31 not out left him the most in-form batter in the side, not to mention his golden arm with the ball.
Murphy quickly regained his spot in the side for the series finale, and the tough but fair call was made to omit Green for performances out of his control.
Marsh went on to finish the tour with 250 runs at an average of 50 – and when paired with his ODI World Cup form, it makes a compelling case for selectors to pick by the age-old saying of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
While their dual presence gave Australia’s batting order another level of stability in Manchester, it seems rather unlikely for history to repeat itself any time soon.
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Marsh himself has previously commented on the mix and match approach, stating that “you want to pick your six best batters”.
“Unless I somehow become an opening batsman after Bull [David Warner] is done, I don’t think that is going to be the case,” he said when prompted about both him and Green playing together.
Starc, Cummins, Lyon and Hazlewood will all resume their status this summer as one of the most dynamic bowling attacks in modern Test history, which leaves no room for two genuine all-rounders barring an erratic batting order reshuffle forced by injury.
All-time cricket great Ricky Ponting has also suggested that the young gun Green may need to bide his time before returning to higher duties.
“He can get a truckload of runs in Shield cricket and sort of force his way back into the side,” said the former Australian captain.
Green, who for the first time in his two-and-a-half-year Test career looms as the contender instead of the man in office, will be hoping selectors strongly consider his potential and growth in all facets of his game.
Averaging 33.59 with the bat and 36.03 with ball this early in his Test career is more than respectable, and will only trend in the right direction with more exposure at the top level.
Having slotted straight back into Western Australia’s side for the last Sheffield Shield game before the BBL, the batting all-rounder did exactly what Ponting suggested at domestic level by hitting a commanding 96 off 151 balls.
In a knock that showcased an abundance of textbook cover drives that only a man in form could dream of, the extra red-ball hit-out over Marsh can only work in his favour come December 14.
In more recent times with the ball, the 198cm Green has been used in short bursts by captain Pat Cummins as a partnership-breaker, with his raw pace and uncomfortable nature of his bounce proving a hurdle for many foreign batters.
A wildcard of sorts with the ball, Green’s bowling is a luxury in an Australian attack renowned for never giving the opposition the chance to relax and reset.
And while Marsh has often been a reliable wicket-taker himself, his ceiling no longer matches that of Green – who has been a handful with the ball from the get-go, taking 5-24 on his first-class debut as a 17-year-old against Tasmania in 2017.
Additionally, Green has made his ability to field at gully well-known since debuting at Test level in 2020.
Former Australian leg-spinner Brad Hogg has made his love for the Subiaco-Floreat junior public, having sent his praise internationally during the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston.
“Give me a gully fielder that comes close to Cam Green’s standards. I’ll wait.” said Hogg, who represented Australia 145 times between 1996 and 2014.
His long limbs have taken 25 catches in 24 matches, many of which have made the highlights reel.
Again, without underselling Marsh – who himself is a very good fielder – Green’s versatility in the field arguably trumps the incumbent, which adds another layer to discussions at the selection table.
His potential to one day lead Australia is a final, albeit far less important variable underlying the No.6 selection in the Test side this summer.
A seemingly natural leader like Green doesn’t come along very often at the elite level, and for someone who is still so young by Test standards, it will be interesting how Cricket Australia best propels both his leadership prospects and management in the top team simultaneously.
Is committing to the continued growth of an emerging superstar more important than picking his state teammate, who is eight years his senior and undoubtedly one of the most in-form players across the globe right now?
The Australian selectors will provide an answer to their selection dilemma in just over a week’s time.