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Rod Marsh's long road to Dominica

The Australian selector recalls a World Series Cricket match he played in Roseau 33 years ago

Daniel Brettig

April 22, 2012

Comments: 10 | Text size: A | A

Rod Marsh blasts the ball down the ground, Australia v West Indies, World Cup, The Oval, June 14, 1975
The 1979 tour was beset by riots and rains, and was the last WSC series © PA Photos
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To say no member of Australia's team has played a match in Dominica is not quite true. The captain, Michael Clarke, has never been here before, nor Michael Hussey, or even the exceedingly well-travelled Ricky Ponting. But the selector on duty in Roseau is Rod Marsh, and in April 1979 he took part in the only match an Australian team has played on the island.

The 11th of 12 scheduled World Series Cricket limited-overs matches in the Caribbean between West Indian and Australian teams was dour and low-scoring, the hosts winning at a canter after Marsh had led the visitors' somewhat meagre resistance in making 137 for 9 from their allotted 45 overs. It turned out to be the last match of WSC, as a truce between Kerry Packer's PBL and the Australian Cricket Board was sewn together while the tour progressed.

Some elements of Dominica have not changed. The major airport at Melville Hall is still on the far side of the island from Roseau, necessitating a 90-minute drive along a winding road through some of the thickest rain forest any traveller is likely to see. "Particularly the drive from the airport I remember last time vividly," Marsh told ESPNcricinfo. "Clive Lloyd was on our bus - for what reason I don't know, because we were opponents, but we did in World Series Cricket days mix a lot more than they do now. He described the road as a 'boy scout' road, one good turn deserves another, and coming in I remembered it all… it's a shocking road.

"But it's a lovely place once you get here, and this ground itself is certainly nothing like it was. I'm assuming it was in the same position, but there were no stands at all. It was like an open recreation park and we were here for a one-day game. We stayed in the same hotel but there was no modern part to it. It was just the fort. We were in here for probably two nights and then out to St Kitts and we got washed out there. It was basically the end of the tour."

WSC had been a long journey, furtive and clandestine at the start, then loud and increasingly proud as the matches gathered an escalating level of public support at the grounds and on television. Its innovations and developments formed the basis for much of the 21st-century game, from blanket television coverage and marketing to aggressive cricket by players aware of the game's commercial imperative to entertain. The WSC tour of the West Indies could also be argued to have expanded the game's reach in the Caribbean, and by extension globally - matches were played in numerous non-Test venues.

"I would imagine the [current] players would've thought, getting out of the plane and into the airport then onto the bus - I'd imagine they'd be thinking, 'Are we really going to play a Test match here?'" Marsh said. "But when you come here and look at it, you think, 'Geez, what a lovely ground for a Test match.' And I've heard already that the place is going to be teeming with people, which is fantastic for both sides. I think it is far better to play in front of a crowd than in front of an empty stadium. So let's hope we fill it and let's hope there's some terrific cricket - and that we win."

The price of such expeditions was paid by the nerves, and in some cases attention spans, of the WSC players. The 1979 tour was beset by riots and unrest, while rain also played a major role, much as it did during the second Test of the current series in Trinidad. Two of the limited-overs matches were washed out, while in Georgetown, scene of the fourth Supertest, the rain was of such intensity as to keep the players in their hotel rooms for days on end. When they emerged, crowd riots also conspired to result in a drawn match. The Test series was ultimately shared 1-1, while West Indies won the limited-overs fixtures by a wide margin.

"We had a lot going on and it was a willing series," Marsh said. "We had a few riots here, there and everywhere. We had one in Trinidad, we had one in Barbados, but the big one, the proper one, was in Guyana, and there was a lot of rain about too. When we went to Guyana I remember rooming with Ray Bright at that stage, and I don't recall leaving our room for about three days.

"We didn't have a beer. We decided because we were getting no exercise as it was too wet to go out on the park. We decided we'd drink nothing but coffee, and we played cards for three days solid. Talk about boredom… thankfully Ray Bright was a funny man, so at least we got through that. He got through it as well and I don't recall who won the cards. But by God we drank a lot of coffee."

 
 
"Clive Lloyd described the road as a 'boy scout' road, one good turn deserves another, and coming in I remembered it all… it's a shocking road" Marsh on the road from the airport to the ground in Roseau
 

By the time of Dominica, it had become clear that these would be the final matches played under the WSC banner, as Packer had achieved his aim of pushing the Australian board into a corner from which its only option was to hand the rights to officially sanctioned cricket to his Channel Nine network. While the WSC West Indies tour would be followed by the 1979 World Cup and a tour of India, both contested by the team of the establishment, by the start of the next Australian summer, Marsh, Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee and the rest of the "rebels" were back in Australian colours - or in contention for them.

"During the tour we got the information that some sort of deal had been done between the ACB and the Packer organisation," Marsh said. "We got the information that we would be playing [for Australia], that it would be back, so it was important to us over here that we played well. Obviously the guys that had played for Australia were doing very well and we knew that we had to play well to get our places back in the team."

For Marsh the tour remains a valued memory as well as an ominous pointer to how formidable an opponent West Indies would become in subsequent years. Thirty-three years on, there is even a hint of nostalgia in his voice when he mentions how good West Indies were, and enthusiasm also for the fact that the current team is showing signs of significant improvement.

"They were a heck of a good side, the West Indies. We matched them over here [in the Supertests], which was a good effort. We felt pretty proud of the fact we were able to match them on the scoreboard," he said. "It's nice to see them really competitive again. Over the last couple of years I think a lot of their pride has been regained and it's starting to show again on the scoreboard. It would be nice if they were a force to be reckoned with again, and that's where they're heading."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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Posted by eddsnake on (April 24, 2012, 13:18 GMT)

@ Hoggy_1989 'We Australians are still waiting for proper disclosure and full mea culpa from MCC over Bodyline!'

And the Aussies call us 'Whingeing Poms'!!! It was 80 years ago and Jardine did the Aussies over within the rules, if not the 'spirit', of the game at the time. Get over it!

Posted by   on (April 24, 2012, 8:54 GMT)

I saw the Supertest between the Australian and West Indies in March 1979, the final day of the match is a day i will never forget.

Posted by On-Drive on (April 23, 2012, 12:29 GMT)

RA Austin played this match. If you click his name on the scorecard, it is showing that Austin was born in 1981. Cricinfo needs to fix this issue.

Posted by Hoggy_1989 on (April 23, 2012, 10:30 GMT)

@ LillianThomson - You have to remember the climate of the time....where every 'establishment' organization in the cricketing world thought WSC was the worst thing that could happen to cricket and refused to acknowledge it. Its only now, with the benefit of hindsight...that people realize (even those dead against it during the time) WSC had to happen to keep the game alive in the Commonwealth. As for re-instatement after the fact? Well the MCC are nothing if not stubborn when it comes to record keeping and the like. We Australians are still waiting for proper disclosure and full mea culpa from MCC over Bodyline!

Posted by RandyOZ on (April 23, 2012, 9:00 GMT)

@LillianThompson - good call. It's as bad as including ODI stats against Kenya et al.

Posted by Meety on (April 23, 2012, 0:11 GMT)

@LillianThomson - I agree that the Super Tests need to be incorporated back into Test stats or at least acknowledged so that they can readily be filtered & analysed by fans. However, I disagree that "...All Test and ODI records for players of the 1970s are nonsense..." as the period was only a couple of years, & really only Oz was crippled in that time. Other nation's boards didn't take as hard line on players playing as the old ACB (or whatever it was called back then). @rama_krish - there were plenty of noteworthy others, but the reality is, those two were probably the stand outs & those performances are probably why they are held in such high regard - making "World XI" squads ect, yet sometimes their raw Test stats don't make them seem as great. @choo_for_twenty_choo - I think that stats can be meaningfully compared from era to era, but unfortunately can be manipulated to present an arguement to easily.

Posted by choo_for_twenty_choo on (April 22, 2012, 19:25 GMT)

@LillianThomson very true - but are any meaningful cricket statistics really comparable over the decades when so many laws and conditions have changed?

Posted by rama_krish on (April 22, 2012, 12:33 GMT)

@Lilian Thomson: I agree, but whatever the numbers are, you would also agree that few players climb the lofty heights scaled by Lillee and Richards.

Posted by   on (April 22, 2012, 11:11 GMT)

Hear, hear to the comments posted by LillianThomson. The last concession by the establishment maybe??

Posted by LillianThomson on (April 22, 2012, 9:13 GMT)

All Test and ODI records for players of the 1970s are nonsense because the ICC insists upon recognising "official" Tests between Packer-decimated teams (e.g. the 78-79 Ashes) while ignoring the SuperTests where the world's best players played the world's toughest cricket. So Dennis Lillee supposedly has only 355 Test wickets and Viv Richards supposedly has only 8540 Test runs, whereas they each know damn well that Lillee had closer to 500 wickets and Richards had over 10,000 Test runs. Hopefully one day this wrong will be righted.

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Daniel BrettigClose
Daniel Brettig Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel's chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth - a rare Australian victory that summer.

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