Marsh under the pump as batsmen struggle again
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Marsh under the pump as batsmen struggle again

Shaun Marsh is dismissed cheaply.

Shaun Marsh is dismissed cheaply.Credit:AAP

Shaun Marsh is fighting for his Test career once again after Australia's batsmen failed once more on a batsman's paradise to leave India in the box seat for a thumping win in Sydney.

Australia's struggling top six have just one more chance to show why they should remain in selectors' plans for the Ashes after a string of batsmen posted mediocre scores on a pitch Ricky Ponting described as "green concrete".

Rain appears Australia's only salvation over the next two days as India close in on their first series victory on these shores.

The home side started promisingly with a 72-run opening stand only to fall away to be 6/236 in reply to India's epic first innings of 7/622 (dec.) when play was called off about half an hour before scheduled stumps due to rain. Peter Handscomb and Pat Cummins have a huge rescue mission to carry out on Sunday.

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Seven Tests since the ball-tampering controversy, there remains a gaping hole in Australia's batting, and so far only Marcus Harris looms as a long-term solution.

While selectors traditionally err on the side of giving a batsman one more chance than one too few they will be wary of giving underperforming players the opportunity to shine against struggling world No. 6 Sri Lanka later this series.

Marsh is under pressure for his position after making just eight before poking at one he could have left from Ravindra Jadeja. As sublime as he can look when he gets going, he has now been dismissed for single figures in 42 per cent of his 66 Test innings.

His series tally stands at 183 runs at 26 with only one score above 50, while his career average has dropped to 34 after rising above 40 at the end of last season's Ashes.

Aged 35 at a time when selectors are looking to the future, Marsh, who booked his berth this series after strong form in the Sheffield Shield and the one-day international arena, may finally have run out of chances if he cannot post a big score in the second innings.

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"He's leaving the door ajar [to be dropped] given what's coming up. At his age he'd want to make every post a winner, otherwise the selectors can very easily go a different way," former Test opener Simon Katich said on SEN.

"He's leaving himself up the creek and potentially throwing both paddles away."

Captain Tim Paine said before play the batsmen had been waiting all series for an opportunity to bat on such a favourable deck but it was squandered through a series of unforced errors.

All but Marsh made a start but no player could kick on to three figures – a milestone Australia has reached only once since last year's SCG Test.

The faith placed in Test rookie Marnus Labuschagne to bat at first drop was only partially returned with a fighting 38.

Handy start: Test debutant Marnus Labuschagne.

Handy start: Test debutant Marnus Labuschagne.Credit:AP

The Queenslander, who jammed his bat down just in time to avoid a golden duck, did not look out of place at the level and could consider himself somewhat unfortunate, middling one off his pads to a diving Ajinkya Rahane at mid-wicket. He would, however, be stiff not to keep his place to face Sri Lanka.

Harris played his best innings, taking the attack to India's spinners on his way to 79 but a lapse in concentration cost him when a maiden century beckoned. Attempting a late cut, Harris chopped on a full-ish delivery from Ravindra Jadeja.

Selectors have been widely criticised but Harris has proven an astute choice, though critics will say it's not surprising a player who has strong form in the Shield for years rather than weeks would be the best performed of the recent debutants. A seat on the plane to Heathrow beckons if he finishes the Test summer well.

Tricky: Indian spinner Kuldeep Yadav.

Tricky: Indian spinner Kuldeep Yadav.Credit:AP

Australia struggled against their nemesis from the deciding Test last year in Kuldeep Yadav, whose left-arm wrist-spin yielded three wickets.

Yadav's extra revs generate more spin and flight than finger-spinners, which played a part in the dismissals of Usman Khawaja, Travis Head and Tim Paine.

That said, Khawaja and Head both played poor shots. Khawaja could not read the wrong-un while Head bunted a full toss straight back to the bowler.

Andrew Wu writes on cricket and AFL for The Sydney Morning Herald

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