A man we must celebrate, 2000

The great fast bowler: Malcolm Marshall

Mark Nicholas

From the address given at the funeral of Malcolm Marshall at the Sir Garfield Sobers Sports Complex, Barbados, on November 13, 1999:

Many years ago my mother suggested to me, in reference to a splendid schoolteacher who had died, that in life on came across only a few truly special people. Lots of good'uns, she said, plenty of fabulous folk, but only a few who are special.

Malcolm Marshall, conclusively, was one of those - one of those special people. Not so much because he was so extraordinarily good at cricket, but because of the way in which he applied the various gifts, cricket amongst them, which were given to him. Malcolm was no waster - not of time, not of talent - nor a shirker of any situation or challenge which confronted him.

He maintained excellence without arrogance, earned respect without arrogance, earned respect without ever assuming it, and displayed confidence and self-assurance within his immense humility.

For as long as perhaps the last two months - maybe more, maybe less - he knew deep down, I think, that the game was up. But he was damned if he would let us know. He was such a stubborn fellow. It was as if he was more concerned about the suffering of those around him, those few intensely close friends kept by this very private man, than about the suffering he was going through himself. The qualities of thoughtfulness and caring, of courage and bravery - and didn't he often show that in his play? - were among his finest. For all the flamboyance and bravado as a sportsman, Malcolm was not one to over-dramatise off the field. He said things as they were, and he resolved that his dreadful illness would be his own problem, and as it escalated, he would not panic others with its potential end.

For everyone who lives here, on this magical island, the name of Malcolm Marshall is synonymous with the style of the place: with the game of cricket in its purest calypso form, but also in its more modern professional form; with fun and sun; with the good and simple living that is typical here; and with the honesty and generosity of spirit that characterises the people of Barbados. It is clear to a visitor his loss has stunned his nation.

And yet, most fascinatingly, amazingly really, his loss has echoed all around the world, volley upon volley of shock stabbing at friends and fans wherever the game is treasured. The internet, for example is jammed with messages and memories, and telephone lines have been on heat. Among the first calls I received were from Shaun Pollock, in Natal, South Africa, who attributes so much of his success to Malcolm; from Barry Richards, the great South African batsman, now living in Australia; from Martin Crowe, who called him "the finest opponent of them all - furious, but fair, and fantastic value in the bar"; and from Ian Botham, busy on his final walk raising millions of pounds for Leukaemia Research, who for once found himself virtually unable to speak, so sad was he not to say goodbye to "the skinny wimp from the Windies", as he loved to call him.

Richards said how sorry he was not to have played with Marshall at Hampshire; he had the privilege of Gordon Greenidge and Andy Roberts but not of him. It was Captain Peter Short who brought Marshall to Hampshire, continuing the line of Barbadians who played for the county, the first of whom was another Marshall, that wonderful batsman Roy, who Malcolm used to follow in the papers.

It was funny to watch opponents greet Macko. The greats, his peers, relished the moment with hand-slapping glee and then they all tore the life out of each other on the pitch. The less good used to whisper among themselves if he was late, as he often was, incidentally, saying "no sign of Macko today? Phew!" Then when he arrived, wrapped in gold chains and fancy clothes - and boy did he dress snappy or what? - their faces would fall. Ray East and David Ackfield, the Essex spinners and terrified tail-enders, used to wait by his car and offer to carry his bags to the dressing-room. "Why?" asked Malcolm, when it first happened. "Well, Mr Marshall, we thought you might consider a couple of half-volleys and, if they're nice and straight, we promise to miss them!"

It is an amazing phenomenon of his short life that opponents everywhere, from Barbados to Bombay, from Sydney to Southampton, loved him so. Let's face it, he was a lethal bowler - that skidding bouncer home in on its target like a Scud missile - and a brilliantly skilful bowler capable of all kinds of swing and cut and subtle changes of pace. But, of course, he was revered after play when he drank his beloved brandies, when his sharp mind chewed the cud of the game and when he boasted of his batting exploits. How he rejoiced in batting!

He loved talking cricket: he knew it so well, and people listened to his strong opinion, his deep insight and his remarkable ability to explore the game's present and future with uncanny foresight. He had time for everyone after play; in the mornings before play too, when he would share the secrets of his success equally with anyone, friend or foe. Pollock, Lance Klusener, Dominic Cork and Chris Cairns are among those who lapped up his advice. Imran Khan, who calls Malcolm the greatest of all fast bowlers, learned the leg-cutter from him. Malcolm, in turn, had learnt it from Dennis Lillee. Theirs was the Fast Bowlers Union, and how he loved to share the nuances and stories of the spoils with all-comers.

So far then, we have a universally loved and respected character who is unselfish and warm, and a man of supreme skill. But we mustn't forget his sense of humour, the extravagant plans for each batsman and those often hysterical, detailed field settings. And then he would turn up his collar and swagger away, job done clinically yet with such flair. That swagger, the swaying of the hips, the brim of the sunhat tilted forwards, the collar pointing to the sky, were all a result of his adoration of Sir Garfield Sobers, whose hundred against New Zealand at the Kensington Oval in 1972 was the definitive moment in the 13-year-old Malcolm's dream to reach the top. He wanted to be Sobers. And of course he was closer to being him than most. "Come on Sobey, come and have a bowl," Clive Lloyd would sometimes say years later, and in would stroll this languid, almost liquid cricketer, immaculate every inch of the way even when dripping with the sweat of his efforts.

Not much got the old boy's back up, though you didn't dare meddle with his cricket case or nick a T-shirt from his wardrobe - blimey, you would have thought an atomic bomb had gone off if he found anything out of place, so neat and tidy were clothes and kit. And he didn't like sloppiness from cricketers, or from people in general - and he certainly didn't suffer indifference from anyone. And he couldn't stand bad manners. Oh, and he liked to get his own way, but then don't we all? And you know why these things frustrated him?

Because he cared. He cared about standards, about commitment to the chosen cause, about quality in all things. Joel Garner once said that "Malcolm's real strength is that he never gives less than 100 per cent for any team in which he plays or is involved." Even to the end, before his operation, he would be bowling in the nets, in-swing and out-swing, appeals and exasperation, smiles and scowls and so much joy.

That's Macko for me. A man of joy and delight in all he did and in others around him. That's Macko for me. A man of joy and delight in all he did and in others around him. The endless chatter, that laughter with his head thrown skywards, those dancing, happy eyes and that welcoming ripper of a smile. And the unbridled enthusiasm for a determined march on all the challenges of life - it didn't matter what they were, simple things such as a round of golf, a hand of backgammon, a night on the town - all met with relish and hope.

He is gone now, and of course we're sad. We're heartbroken. But he is a man we must celebrate, for he gave life all that he had, and from him came an unforgettable warmth and always a sense of direction. The Hampshire captain of the 1960s, Colin Ingelby-Mackenzie, said last week, "We can only assume the great Maestro in the sky was short of a class all-rounder." Not only does the Maestro in the sky have with him a great all-rounder, but in Malcolm, has the greatest enthusiast for the game I have known. They will probably be having a party together right now, as we must in time, in his honour. Let's be honest, he'd hate us not to smile from within each time we think of him - the Marshall memory really is one to treasure.

Malcolm always referred to himself as a "lucky man". Well, we're the lucky ones to have known him. What a privilege it has been.

Malcolm Marshall died on November 4, 1999, aged 41. His obituary is on pages 1553-1555. Mark Nicholas, now a broadcaster and journalist, was captain of Hampshire from 1984 to 1995.

© John Wisden & Co