Mem­o­ries of Mar­shall stir in Bar­ba­dos

Feats of best fast bowler of all time, who died in 1999, re­call era when West In­dies ruled game

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Cricket - Scyld Berry CRICKET COR­RE­SPON­DENT in Bridgetown

Eng­land had the first prac­tice of their West In­dian tour at the 3Ws Oval on the univer­sity cam­pus at Cave Hill, where they will have four days of match prac­tice ahead of the first Test start­ing a week on Wed­nes­day. The ground was named after Frank Wor­rell, Clyde Wal­cott and Ever­ton Weekes (who is still alive), all Bar­ba­di­ans knighted for their ser­vices to cricket.

The nets are also named after a Bar­ba­dian, Mal­colm Mar­shall, al­though he was never knighted. In the West In­dies, as in Eng­land, gongs go to batsmen, not bowlers.

Mar­shall, nev­er­the­less, is still widely re­garded as the best fast bowler ever. Of all pace­men, only the Aus­tralian left-armer Alan David­son has taken 100 Test wick­ets for a lower av­er­age than Mar­shall, who took his 376 at 20.9 each.

In Mar­shall’s first decade in the side, West In­dies lost three Tests and were world cham­pi­ons.

Mar­shall died, aged only 41, of colon can­cer in Novem­ber 1999. He is buried on the south coast of Bar­ba­dos, in the church­yard of St Bartholomew’s, near the dark, shim­mer­ing blue of the At­lantic. A cou­ple of miles up the west coast is St Michael’s, where the Caribbean is aqua­ma­rine, and where Mar­shall grew up play­ing cricket in a park with a soft ball and any im­ple­ments he and his friends could find. His fa­ther, a po­lice­man, had died in an ac­ci­dent when Mal­colm was one, so he was brought up by his ex­tended fam­ily, play­ing cricket in ev­ery spare mo­ment.

The turnout at St Bartholomew’s for Sung Eucharist at 9.30am was about 200 in­clud­ing cho­ris­ters. All win­dows and doors were open wide. It was the First Sun­day after the Epiphany, the first les­son taken from Isa­iah 43, 1-7. Plenty of his in-laws at­tended, ac­cord­ing to a church war­den: he had mar­ried Con­nie, from the next vil­lage, two months be­fore he died.

The grave, of black mar­ble, has a poem writ­ten by Mar­shall’s young son Mali while his fa­ther wasted away. No cut flow­ers in the vase at­tached to the grave, but poin­set­tias in the hedgerows, and ca­suar­i­nas wav­ing in the wind com­ing off the sea – from mid-off, from the point of view of the grave, so Mar­shall might have opted for in­swingers if bowl­ing at Eng­land’s batsmen. Mar­shall – also known as “Maco” as it says on the head­stone – was the best there has ever been be­cause he was James An­der­son-plus. He had all the skills to swing the new ball both ways, and to cut the old ball both ways, but also the abil­ity to crank it up above 90mph, as fast as any­one has ever bowled.

He took more than 1,600 first-class wick­ets – it is re­mark­able that Hamp­shire, for whom he took half of them, never won the cham­pi­onship in his time – as well as scor­ing 11,000 first­class runs. Other chal­lengers for his ti­tle as the all-time best, such as Den­nis Lillee or Fred True­man, had side-on ac­tions and could not bowl an in­swinger – not with­out a bla­tant change of ac­tion. After sprint­ing in, Mar­shall looked at the bats­man on the in­side of his lead­ing arm. He had strong shoul­ders, de­vel­oped in child­hood, and the quick­est of arms.

Maco pi­o­neered a ter­ri­fy­ing form of at­tack, that of bowl­ing bounc­ers at right-handed batsmen from round the wicket – when the laws per­mit­ted six bounc­ers an over.

Skiddy they were too: had he been taller than 5ft 10½in, some bounc­ers might have flown harm­lessly over heads, in­stead of hit­ting them, like Andy Lloyd’s in his sole Test for Eng­land. No­body, even now, has been able to repli­cate this form of at­tack. Mitchell John­son, with a dif­fer­ent arm but from the same an­gle, came clos­est in 2013-14, to Eng­land’s hor­ror.

When the ball aged, in­stead of wait­ing for the sec­ond new ball, Mar­shall be­came even more skil­ful. As he was picked for the West In­dies tour of In­dia in 1978-79 after one first-class match, for Bar­ba­dos, he had to learn fast on the job – and did. He could cut the old ball both ways as well as swing it both ways, as no­body of his pace has done.

He ad­mit­ted to one weak­ness: “If I have a blind spot, then it is bowl­ing to left-han­ders: I hate them. I strug­gle to get my an­gles right,” he con­fessed in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Mar­shall Arts. It is just as well: against right-handed batsmen in Tests, Mar­shall had a bowl­ing av­er­age of 16, which is ridicu­lous.

Only be­cause he av­er­aged 24 against left-han­ders did it go up to 20 over­all. And if he were play­ing now, he would have DRS to help when he swung the ball back into a left-han­der’s pads: Mar­shall had to make do with­out tech­nol­ogy or neu­tral um­pires.

Per­haps his finest hour was when he over­whelmed Eng­land with one hand. It was the Head­in­g­ley Test of 1984 at “the only ground in the world where I have ex­pe­ri­enced any form of ra­cial prej­u­dice … There is a hard core who are never slow to voice their ha­tred for the West In­dian play­ers”.

Hav­ing bro­ken his left thumb while field­ing, and after bat­ting with only his right hand to help Larry Gomes to his cen­tury, Mar­shall steamed in with a plas­ter cast on his left arm and took seven for 53.

Dr Ali Bacher of­fered Mar­shall $1 mil­lion to go to apartheid South Africa for a year. Maco re­fused. He was price­less. He was the all-time best.

Turn­ing back time: Ben Stokes (above) in front of nets named after Mal­colm Mar­shall (in­set). He is buried on the south coast of Bar­ba­dos (left)

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