(West Indies 1978-91)
‘…in the All-Time XI of the greatest cricketers, there will be no-one to take the new ball ahead of him.’ Wisden.
In an era of great West Indian fast bowlers, at a time when it was an achievement to simply be part of the fearsome quartet (Holding, Garner, Roberts, Croft and later Ambrose, Bishop, Walsh to name a few), Malcolm Marshall’s skill and determination took him to the top of the pile.
At just under 5’ 11’’, Marshall was relatively short compared to his fellow quick bowlers but he used this to his advantage. An unorthodox angled run-up and whippy, front-on action produced both searing pace and unplayable swing, supplemented by a wicked bouncer that became the most feared ball in his armoury.
However, it was Marshall’s exceptional cricketing brain and competitiveness that set him apart – as one cricket writer said, ‘he had all the toys’ but more importantly ‘he knew when and how to play with them’.
At his peak he was the best fast bowler of his time, possibly of all time, and his bowling average of 20.94 is still the best that any bowler has taken over 200 Test wickets. You can watch him in action here.
As a talented lower order batsman he did not really do himself justice. However, he did love batting and is probably the closest the West Indies have had to a world-class all-rounder since Sir Garfield Sobers.
Off the pitch he is remembered most for his cheerful Bajan spirit and was exceptionally popular among his fellow players, team-mates and opponents. Former West Indian team-mate Colin Croft said, ‘I do not know anyone who would say anything bad about Malcolm as a person or cricketer.’
Sadly his life was cruelly cut short when, in 1999 aged 41, he died not long after being diagnosed with colon cancer.
Major teams represented – West Indies, Barbados, Hampshire & Natal.
81 Tests (1978-91) –
376 wickets at 20.94.
1810 runs at 18.85.
136 One-Day Internationals (ODI’s) –
157 wkts at 26.96.
955 runs at 14.92.
408 First-Class matches (1977/78 – 1995/6) –
1651 wkts at 19.10
11004 runs at 24.83 (including 7 hundreds).
440 List A matches (domestic limited over games) –
521 wkts at 23.71
3795 runs at 16.86.
The Early Days
Malcolm Denzil Marshall was born on 18th April 1958, Bridgetown, Barbados. Tragically his father died in a road accident when he was still a baby and he grew up learning much of his cricket from his grandfather. He longed to emulate his childhood hero Sir Garfield Sobers and though he was a talented batsman, it was as a bowler that he forced his way into a strong Barbados team.
Marshall made his first-class debut in February 1978, aged 19, against Jamaica. Despite being run out for 0, he took his chance with the ball taking 6/77 in the first innings.
Having given the selectors some indication of his talent, he was selected for the West Indies’ tour of India later in the year despite his debut being his only first class experience. His selection was primarily due to the loss of the majority of the national team to World Series Cricket including first choice bowlers Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Joel Garner and Colin Croft.
The weakened side lost the series 1-0 and Marshall made little impact (3 wkts at 88.33) but Hampshire saw enough to take him on as their overseas player for the 1979 English county season.
He missed part of the season due to World Cup commitments but was kept out of the West Indian side by the return of Roberts, Holding, Croft and Garner.
A decent first season for his adopted county (47 wkts at 22.36) could not reverse the fortunes of a struggling Hampshire side.
Marshall showed further glimpses of his ability in the Test arena, notably sparking an England collapse at Old Trafford in 1980 by taking 3 quick wickets, but it was not enough to hold down a regular spot. He was in and out of the side, eventually missing out for nearly 2 years after playing in the last Test of the 1980-81 England tour of the West Indies.
A Sign of Things to Come…
Marshall’s fierce determination and application saw him return to Hampshire to further improve his game and in 1982 his dedication paid off as he finished a phenomenal county season with 134 wkts at 15.73 (making his previous two successful seasons look mediocre in comparison, 1980 – 66 wkts at 17.72, 1981 – 68 wkts at 19.42). During that summer, Marshall bowled more overs than anyone else – a mark of his amazing stamina and commitment, as his West Indian team-mate Joel Garner noted, ‘Malcolm’s real strength was that he never gave less than 100 per cent for any side he played in. Pulling his weight for his team just meant everything to him.’
The national selectors took notice and Marshall forced his way back into the West Indies side in early 1983 against the touring Indians. On his return to the team Marshall took 21 wkts at 23.57 including 5-37, his first 5-wicket haul and achieved his highest test score of 92.
Later that year, during the 1983 World Cup in England, it became apparent that Marshall was no longer simply a change bowler for his side – he was the ‘new fast bowler on the block’, leading the West Indian bowling averages and helping them to the final only to suffer a shock defeat at the hands of India.
The Supreme Fast Bowler
By the time the West Indies toured India later in 1983 Marshall was opening the bowling, a role he didn’t relinquish until the twilight of his career. He learnt from his team-mates and combined their best attributes to become, arguably, the most complete fast bowler to grace the game.
He fused the aggression of Colin Croft, Andy Roberts’ guile and variety, Joel Garner’s consistency and determination with the grace and rhythm of Michael Holding to become every batsman’s worst nightmare.
He could swing the ball prodigiously both ways and later developed a near-unplayable leg-cutter. He also possessed a lethal bouncer, a weapon he was very willing to use as the 1985-86 England touring team discovered; Mike Gatting had to head home after Marshall re-arranged his nose in a ODI early in the tour as the West Indies set the tone for the series.
Observers argue that the previous series against New Zealand (1984/85) was the most hostile since the infamous ‘Bodyline’ as Marshall and Garner pushed the spirit of cricket to its limit with a barrage of bouncers from over and round the wicket.
However, Marshall had a brilliant cricketing brain and his use of the short ball was nearly always part of a plan – like Sir Richard Hadlee, Marshall was able to work out batsmen’s weaknesses and exploit them.
The Peak of his Powers
‘…[he] allied sheer pace to consistent excellence for longer than anyone else.’
Between 1983 and 1986, Marshall was at the top of his game. He took 11 five-wicket hauls in 14 Tests including some of his most impressive performances.
On the 1983/84 tour of India, traditionally a fast bowler’s graveyard, Marshall returned home with 33 wickets at 18.81 and promptly helped beat the Australians taking 21 wkts at 22.85 despite missing 2 Tests.
The following summer during the West Indies’ 5-0 ‘blackwash’ tour of England (1984) he produced his most memorable moment in the 3rd Test at Headingley. Having helped his side to a 2-0 lead by taking 6-85 at Lord’s, Marshall and the West Indies looked to have suffered a cruel blow as he broke his left thumb while fielding early on the first day.
The West Indies had a small lead when their 9th wicket fell but much to the England fielders’ surprise Marshall came out to bat. Batting one-handed (watch a clip here) Marshall helped Larry Gomes to a hundred and their brief 12-run partnership took the West Indies past 300 before he was last out for 4. Marshall then delivered his opponents an even bigger psychological blow when he took the field with his left wrist in plaster to open the bowling.
Marshall used all his bravery and cunning in taking 7/53 including a caught and bowled, as England crumbled to 159 all out as the West Indies won the test by 8 wickets.
He missed the 4th Test, but returned for the final test at the Oval, bouncing England out in the 1st innings, taking 5/35, his 7th haul of 5 or more wickets in 10 Tests, to finish the series with 24 wkts at 18.20.
His incredible form continued through the winter tour to Australia (28 wkts at 19.78 including four 5-wkts hauls in four consecutive innings) and then followed the two infamously intimidating home series against New Zealand, 1984/85 and England, 1985/86 (who suffered another humiliating 5-0 thrashing). Marshall took 27 wkts in each series and his strike rate (average balls bowled per wicket) was exceptional, 37.8 and 37.6.
Three drawn series in a row followed as the previously unstoppable West Indian side started to lose its unbeatable aura – Pakistan held them at home and away despite Marshall’s efforts, (in Pakistan 86/87, 16 wkts at 16.62, in WI 87/88, 15 wkts at 18.93) while he had his first poor series, since his debut, in New Zealand 1986/87.
On the tour of England in 1988, the West Indies returned to their old ways as they thrashed possibly the worst England team ever 4-0. The only positive for the home side was avoiding a third successive 5-0 defeat. Marshall finished with 35 wkts at 12.65 including 7/22 in a brilliant spell of swing bowling on a spinner’s pitch at Old Trafford.
The Start of a New Era
Marshall had another outstanding series against India in 1989 (19 wkts at 15.26). However, there had been in a shift in the fast-bowling tide. Marshall was still a formidable opponent and revered across the world but was now part of the four-man bowling attack as opposed to leading it.
He bowled 2nd change in taking match figures of 11-89 against the Indians as the emergence of another generation of legendary quicks (Bishop, Ambrose and Walsh) arrived on the scene – fortunate to be able to learn all the skills from the great fast bowler himself.
He played in four more Test series and, appropriately, his 81st and last Test was against England in 1991. His 376th (a West Indian record at the time) and final wicket was Graham Gooch, the man he dismissed the most in his career.
Marshall retired from Test cricket having played in 21 Test series, winning 15 of them, drawing 5 and the only loss coming in his debut series as part of a second string side.
Hampshire – A Final Success
Dedicated to Hampshire, Marshall returned as their overseas player every season from 1979 to 1993. His county record was astounding, 826 first-class wickets at 18.64 and during the 1980’s his returns were incredible (1985 – 95 wkts at 17.68, 1986 – 100 wkts at 15.08, not forgetting his amazing effort in 1982).
His efforts were finally rewarded when he helped Hampshire to lift the Benson & Hedges Trophy in 1992 scoring 29* and taking 3-33 in the final.
He proved to be more than useful with the bat in the lower order, scoring 5847 runs at 25.20 and in 1990 he almost passed 1000 runs (962 at 45.80) to go with 72 wickets at 19.18, a genuine all-rounder’s effort.
Over his county career he made friends across the country – opponents who had sleepless nights prior to facing him soon discovered that the man with a fearsome reputation on the pitch was the most genial and gentle person off it.
Former Hampshire team-mates recall him striking up a deal with the former Gloucestershire spinner and current England selector David Graveney – he would not bowl any bouncers at Graveney, if in return, when Graveney bowled, he would keep his field up allowing Marshall to swing his bat freely in an attempt to hit as many boundaries as possible.
Post Career and Tragedy
Marshall stopped playing for Hampshire in 1993 but continued to play for Natal for two further seasons, helping in a player/coach capacity to bring the best out of players such as Shaun Pollock and Lance Klusener.
He returned to coach Hampshire in 1996 and, rumour has it, had to stop bowling in the nets because he was demoralising the Hampshire batsmen – he was still good enough off just a couple of paces.
He also took on, possibly, the hardest job in cricket at that time, coaching a West Indian side struggling to live up to the glory days he had helped achieve. He applied himself to his coaching as he had to his bowling and again his net bowling proved too much for most of his nation’s new generation.
Before he could reverse their fortunes he was suddenly taken ill with stomach pains during the 1999 World Cup and diagnosed with colon cancer. He returned to Barbados following treatment and married his long term girlfriend Connie shortly before he passed away on 4th November 1999.
His funeral stopped the Caribbean in its tracks and was attended by thousands including friends and cricketers from the world over. This thoughtful eulogy from his funeral gives a wonderful insight into his character.
The Best There Has Ever Been?
‘We must assume that the Great Maestro in the sky was short of a class all-rounder.’ ‘ Former Hampshire captain, Colin Ingleby-MacKenzie”.
Comparisons between players of different eras is always hard but Marshall’s record places him in the top 10 bowlers of all time. 376 wickets in 81 Tests is an incredible strike rate and he managed it while competing for wickets with the likes of Holding, Garner, Walsh & Ambrose.
Marshall troubled all the best batsmen of his time and his performances were consistent all over the cricketing world against every country. He did it the hard way too, a list of his most dismissed batsmen reads as a who’s who of the era’s best batsmen – the top 8 being Gooch, Lamb, Border, Vengsarker, Boon, Kapil Dev, Botham and Gavaskar.
All the best have natural talent but Marshall pushed himself further with amazing determination and a fantastic cricketing brain – Robin Smith, his former Hampshire team-mate, said he could nominate the deliveries that he’d get players out and invariably he lived up to his word.
As Graham Gooch said, ‘he was quite simply the most brilliant bowler of my time…’.