Ashes: A ton of Mitchell Marsh, Mark Wood’s five points leave the Leeds test flat after day one

That was the only feint Wood traded in his three with the new ball. But the pace, combined with accuracy and aggressiveness, terrifies, panics the batsmen, breeds indiscretion and indecision. His peers reap the benefits of the atmosphere of fear he has created. The commendable Chris Woakes and the inspired Stuart Broad broke the backbone of the Australian batting. Woakes created the edge of Marnus Labuschagne with movement from the seam from a strong length; Broad set Steve Smith up for a hit, the movement was minimal but sufficient. Both Smith and Labuschagne looked unsure, and the blame for that had to be placed on Wood, who offered a vital dimension that England lacked at Lord’s and Birmingham. He showed what a difference pure pace could make, what energy it provided.

At the score of 85-4, trouble loomed ominously over the stadium like clouds. A man appeared to bring them light, and an unlikely giver of light. Few expected Mitchell Marsh to play at Headingley, or perhaps to play at all in this series, given the investment in Cameron Green, perhaps the most promising all-rounder in the world. Marsh was a backup, no longer the bright young prospect he once was, but a wading through the dismal middle stages of his lackluster career, clinging to the last straws of prosperity in the white uniform.

But fortune often knocks when you least expect it. An injury to Green, for whom he struggled mediocrely, allowed Marsh to take part in his first test in four years. The latter, mind you, brought seven wickets. But a series of injuries and a subsequent decline in form before the white-ball resurgence stalled his progress in Test cricket. But strokes like these may ensure he has a less fickle place in the team.

Great clarity in his approach. His plan was simple — he left or defended balls of good length; he clipped or pulled short or hard balls; he killed anything that even remotely resembled fullness. Were it not for a dropped ball, his plans worked to perfection. He signaled the start of an epic blow with a great cover drive at lunchtime, but how often he, like his brother Sean, cheats.

Rebirth and redemption

The real seal of intent came immediately after lunch, when he threw Woakes over the mid-on to the six and then felled him to the ground. He started picking off one bowler after another. Next it was Brode’s turn to experience the fury of Marsh’s Оhe struck a blow that flew toward the fence behind the back point like a flash of lightning and then crunched through the lids. Broad grimaced, the crowd fell silent as the library, and you could feel the grip of the game loosening in England’s clutches.

In comes Woods, England’s redeemer. An epic contest ensued. A pace merchant against a pace destroyer bred in the wild west of Australia. He threw the first ball, and on the second he made a spurt so strong that it was like a collective slap in the face to England’s bowlers and the crowd that booed them. Soon Wood was trapping a short ball on the side of his feet with two men behind the square. Marsh didn’t guess at the bowler’s intentions; he was sure they would be. He launched a shoulder-high bouncer into the upper tiers.

Wood went back to longer strikes at a crushing pace, but Marsh struck out a couple of scoring boundaries to undermine the fighting spirit. He didn’t spare Ollie Robinson either, after which the bowler withdrew with an injury. Moeen Ali simply invited him to come off, which he did, scoring his hundredth in 102 balls.

In between fence hits, he showed off the strength of his technique, the smoothness of his footwork, and the smoothness of his weight transfer. Marsh no longer looked like an impostor who flopped on his front foot and believed his luck. He still has a tendency to play hard with his hands when leading and defending, an edge that Joe Root had fouled showed his weakness, but he concealed it by showing more judiciousness. He won’t hit everything outside the off-stump, but those hits he knows are among his percentage hits. Marsh has turned Travis Head into a mere passenger in their alliance of 155 wins at a breakneck pace.

But during tea, Waukes caught up to Marsh with a short ball, which he hit with the inside of his thigh and subsequently flew into the air.

Two overs after halftime, after the hapless Woakes had straightened out the dangerous Head, Stokes knew who to entrust with tailback duties. It was Wood, and he blasted the last four batsmen, two of them bowled and one for a leg before the wicket for 16 balls of unbridled pace and purpose. It was a stunning collapse – Australia lost six wickets for 23 runs.

So that’s what pace does. It was the theme of the day – the bowler who played the fastest and the batsman who batted the fastest rattled out of the shadows.

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