March 2, 2018 / 8:58 PM / in 9 months

Two Mitchells lay platform as Australia take charge of first test

DURBAN (Reuters) - A devastating spell of swing bowling by Australia’s Mitchell Starc may well grab the second-day headlines, but it was his namesake who laid the platform for a commanding 189-run first innings lead in the first test against South Africa.

Cricket - Ashes test match - Australia v England - SCG, Sydney, Australia, January 7, 2018. Australia's Mitchell Starc celebrates dismissing England's Mark Stoneman during the fourth day of the fifth Ashes cricket test match. REUTERS/David Gray

Middle-order batsman Mitchell Marsh compiled an excellent 96 in Durban, falling just short of a third test century when, in search of a boundary, he miscued a Vernon Philander delivery to Morne Morkel at mid-on.

But the 114 runs he added with the Australian tail in his side’s first innings total of 351 could yet prove pivotal on what is an abrasive wicket that offers assistance with both the new and the old ball.

“It was an important innings and I was proud how I was able to bat with the tail,” Marsh told reporters at the close of play. “I have worked extremely hard on my defence and keeping the good balls out. That’s given me a lot more confidence to be patient.

“I used to be quite intense at the crease every ball, it wears you out. I try to keep my mind clear and it seems to have helped me.”

Marsh’s innings laid the platform for an above-par Australian total, before Starc (5-34) and spinner Nathan Lyon (3-50) skittled out their hosts - who lost their last five wickets for just 12 runs - for 162.

Marsh believes that when Starc gets the ball to reverse-swing, there is little a tail can do, while Lyon’s strike-rate in the last year has been a perfect foil for the team’s pace attack.

“When you are bowling at (Starc’s) pace it’s almost impossible to play and his (Lyon’s) last 12 months has been amazing. You know he is always going to have an impact.”

AB de Villiers, who struck a brilliant 71 not out as South African wickets fell all around him, believes his side are not out of the test yet.

“Australia had a really good intensity about them,” he said.

“...But it’s not all lost. Some guys looked really good out there and we just didn’t convert. We came up just short. The wicket is getting harder by the day and it won’t be easy for them (Australia) to bat out there tomorrow.”

Reporting By Nick Said; editing by John Stonestreet

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