|Men's Ashes: England vs. Australia, Fifth Specsavers Test (Day One Of Five)|
|England 271-8: Buttler 64 *, Root 57, M Marsh 4-35|
|Australia: Still to beat|
Of all the bowlers who wanted to thwart England's battering team, Mitchell Marsh should not be one of them.
He's not a speed demon like Pat Cummins. He has neither Mitchell Starc's awkward left arm angle nor Josh Hazlewood's infallible accuracy.
He is a lively mid-pacer with a modest bowling record (35 Test Wickets at 43.91 pm going into this game). During the last cricket summer in Australia he was excluded from all formats and lost his central contact in April in a difficult year.
Marsh is a divisive character at home – "Yes, most of Australia hate me!" he said after the game – because he has never exhausted his potential.
An all-rounder who sees all too often that one facet burns and the other fails. The son of a legend (Geoff) says the whisper "he is chosen only for his name" has haunted him throughout his career.
But on the first day of the fifth Ashes test, he faced a racket line-up in England that will collapse if someone sneezes next to it. He saw the script – a day when things went wrong for Australia, from throwing to sloppy pitching – and rewrote it.
In the first hours at The Oval I went to England. The catches were dropped. Missing fields have occurred. Australia looked like they still felt the effects of their post-Old Trafford party.
And then everything literally returned to Australia's favor. Of course it was like that. Because that's the ashes, and that's England, and that's Australia, and that happens in this ridiculous series.
And it was Marsh who was the center of attention. Marsh was not on the front line as a bowler. He was working to ease the work on Cummin's shoulders and to remove some of the heat from the tiring legs of the best bowler in the world.
But Marsh got the ball moving. Swing through the air at decent speed and dazzle the English batsmen.
That's not how it should be. Marsh has been on tour since July and has not played. He spent more time in a glowing jersey to run the drinks when he had a ball in hand on this tour, which also included a seven-week World Cup.
Australia chose the wrong team. They had made a wrong call when throwing. They dropped four catches. They slipped on the field.
And yet England had eight defeats at the end of the day. England collapsed. England played bad shots. England had to rely on a late boost from Jos Buttler, who unleashed a counterattack on a day when counterattacks should not have occurred to anyone, to bring him to a point that resembled a reasonably decent result.
Marsh would have allowed himself a wry smile at the end of the game. He is an amiable figure – he admitted that his body is increasing slightly. "I do not necessarily eat so bad, I'm just a big eater," he laughed afterwards. "My mother likes to feed me."
But for Marsh, playing in this test was like a kid at Christmas. He has matured in recent years. He was disqualified from an Australia A Tour in 2012 after celebrating his 21st birthday too late and was said to be out of date with fitness.
The long-held suspicion was hard to hide.
The past year was difficult for him on and off the field. He lost a close friend by suicide and in his own words "he did not handle it well". Marsh needed time to alternate with one for each tragic situation. He worked with the sport psychologist of his country. He measured his diet. He went out and borrowed half a mantra from Buttler's bat.
And it worked. Marsh has made his own luck. He turned the conceivable punishment day for Australia upside down. And maybe he will not be hated at home when this test ends.