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Malcolm Marshall: Tribute To A Legend Of The Game

All Out Cricket’s West Indian correspondent Rohan Kallicharan recalls the tour that made the cricketing world sit up and take note of legendary fast bowler Malcolm Marshall

It seems fitting, as West Indies contest their first Test tour of India since 2002, to reflect upon the life and career of one of the true greats of our sport – one who transcends generations, and one for whom India was a significant part of his journey to greatness.

Malcolm Denzil Marshall was a boy of 20 years with a solitary first-class appearance to his name when selected to tour India in 1978/9, an ill-fated tour for a West Indian side shorn of nearly all its top players to World Series Cricket.

He made his debut in December 1978 at Bangalore, the second Test match of a series that the visitors would narrowly lose 1-0. In three matches during the tour the wiry young man from Barbados took just three wickets at an average of 88.33, but the West Indian management had seen enough to realise that they had a precious raw material with which to work. With the return of the World Series players, Marshall was unable to establish a regular place in the West Indian side but when he did play he performed respectably, picking up 55 wickets at 28.70 over 17 Test matches up to October 1983.

During this period the young firebrand learnt his trade in county cricket for Hampshire, taking a phenomenal 132 wickets in the 1982 season. Moreover, while he did not go to World Series Cricket, Marshall was indirectly a beneficiary of the tournament, as West Indies recruited an Australian physio and fitness specialist by the name of Dennis Waight in that turbulent period. Waight would go on to revolutionise the preparation and physical condition of the West Indian quicks.

Malcolm Marshall in his pomp

ESPNcricinfo describes Marshall as “not physically imposing”, but possessing “natural balance and athleticism”. This is true although misleading to a point. The young Marshall was a thin, lean specimen, but the developed form – both through the work of Waight and the natural growth process – had a strong, broad-shouldered physique.

In October 1983, the West Indies returned to India, keen to consolidate their position as the best side in the world and desperate to avenge their defeat by the same opposition in the 1983 World Cup final – a result that sent shockwaves through the cricketing world. In the absence of Joel Garner and with the veteran Andy Roberts missing the first four matches through injury, Marshall, having served his apprenticeship, had the opportunity to take centre stage… and didn’t he just!

In his opening over of the series he silenced the Kanpur crowd by sending the stumps of Sunil Gavaskar flying back towards the pavilion. He would again dismiss the great Indian in the second innings, and although Gavaskar would have his moments in the series, this was the tour on which the legend of Malcolm Marshall was truly born.

On subcontinental pitches – usually a graveyard for bowlers of the quicker persuasion – Marshall took 33 wickets in the six-match series at an average of 18.81. A star had arrived, and the world’s batsmen would know all about it in the eight years that followed. Marshall often saved his best for England, none more so than in 1984 and 1988. Over those two tours, he took 59 wickets in nine matches at 14.91 – and that doesn’t include the 27 wickets that he took on England’s tour of West Indies in 1985.

Marshall was a thoughtful, skilled craftsman, but he had hostility in abundance. He was not afraid to use the bouncer, although the fact that he hit so many batsmen is said by opponents to have come from a low trajectory at the point of delivery, which saw the ball skid on to batsmen before they even knew it. Helmets weren’t always enough. Just ask Andy Lloyd, whose Test career was ended inside an hour, and Mike Gatting, who had his nose rearranged.

But it was his artistry that shone as his career developed, as he utilised the leg-cutter and in-swinger to devastating effect. During the 1988 tour of England he had lost little of his pace, and this combination of late movement at will, and at speed, was devastating. He took 35 wickets at 12.65 in that series and was utterly unplayable. I recall being at Old Trafford as he took a Test-best 7-22, and there was no batsman in the world who would have laid a bat on him that morning as he made the ball not just talk, but sing.

Malcolm Marshall bats one-handed against England at Headingley

In his latter years it was this control and movement, still at a brisk if not express pace, which cemented his reputation as the complete fast bowler and he remained the key cog in the West Indian attack to the end of his career in 1991. Marshall was the comprehensive package. On quick pitches he would hit the deck hard and extract fearsome bounce and pace in the manner of an Andy Roberts, whilst in more seam-friendly conditions he was as masterful as the great Sir Richard Hadlee in the subtle arts of swing and seam bowling. He had a heart as big as a lion and would run in all day long – for his bravery, just cast your mind back to Headingley in 1984, when he batted one-handed after sustaining a double fracture of the left thumb to help Larry Gomes to his century before returning figures of 7-53.

My memories of Malcolm, however, are not confined to what most saw on the field, but of the man I grew to love equally off it. It was a tragic loss when he lost his battle against colon cancer on November 4, 1999, aged just 41. In those 41 years, however, he left a legacy bigger than most could manage in multiple lifetimes, doing so with a smile (generally!) and in a style that won admirers globally. Personally, I lost a friend, mentor and hero, and my tears were shared across the wider cricketing community where he was loved by so many.

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