January 2000

Too fast

If comparisons are odious, let a superlative suffice

Malcolm Marshall in action © Getty Images
If comparisons are odious, let a superlative suffice. Malcolm Marshall was the finest of fast bowlers, and the nearest to complete there has ever been. In the 1980s he proved his supremacy against every team everywhere and was never involved in a losing Test series.

Perhaps two fast bowlers can be ranked alongside him as equal best, but not above him. Ray Lindwall, by all accounts, was as near-complete as Marshall in commanding inswing and outswing, the skidding bouncer and yorker, all at the highest pace and with the greatest control; but Lindwall did not quite average four wickets per Test in his career. Marshall averaged five per Test until the final phase, which was just as much of an achievement as his astonishing bowling average and strike rate, considering that he always had three out of Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Colin Croft, Sylvester Clarke, Wayne Daniel, Curtly Ambrose, Patrick Patterson and Courtney Walsh competing with him for every scrap. Richard Hadlee averaged five wickets per Test with Ewen Chatfield and assorted dobbers at the other end. Marshall had some mighty vultures to help him soften up the opposition, but also to swoop upon the carrion.

Dennis Lillee might also have to be bracketed with Marshall as he had the same insatiable hunger to leave his mark upon every spell and cricket match. Lillee however was not a success in Asia as Marshall was, never playing a Test in India- because Australia only toured there once in his time, and did not pick their Packer players - and taking only three wickets in his three Tests in Pakistan in 1979-80 when the pitches were designed to blunt him to a ridiculous degree. Marshall had a far more effective series in Pakistan in 1986-87 on livelier pitches, and a fine record in India after his debut tour in 1978-79, for which he was picked after only one match for Barbados in the absence of the West Indians who had joined World Series Cricket. Along with Marshall, I would also bracket Imran Khan in the period just after WSC, when he introduced reverse-swing in its highest form.

Marshall had the quickest of bowling arms and the most astute of brains to analyse the characteristics and weaknesses of batsmen, but perhaps the highest praise which can be paid him is that he was so effective in spite of his lack of inches. The best fast bowlers have always had the height to get the ball to bounce. Marshall, at 5ft 11ins, made the ball skid and had to make do with this lower trajectory, yet he kept up with the tall men until he became king.

© Getty Images
Above all, though, was that hunger to become the best and to remain so, fired by the traditional Barbadian belief in hard work. As vivid as any of my memories of him was not from a Test at all but the MCC Bicentenary match at Lord's in 1987. Courtney Walsh was just reaching his prime, Kapil Dev and Imran Khan not far past theirs; Clive Rice was keen to make the most of the nearest he ever came to a Test, and Richard Hadlee was the embodiment of fast-medium accuracy; but Marshall upstaged them all. The pitch was a featherbed with enough pace for strokeplay, and Sunil Gavaskar seized upon it to make the only Lord's hundred of his life. Soon Hadlee, the son of accountant Walter, calculated that it would be more economical to save his energies for another day and pitch, but Marshall's competitive instinct would not die. He tore in with his high-stepping sprint, and should have had Gavaskar for 0, not once but twice.

The featherbed was transformed into a minefield by Marshall, especially when he bowled at - rather than to - Dilip Vengsarkar. The tall Indian, fielding close, had stuffed Marshall on his Test debut in 1978-79. Much the same happened to Richie Richardson on his Test debut in Bombay a few years later with another orchestrated appeal, but the mild Richie Rich was not driven by vendetta ever after. `Macko' had the dog in him, the hunter's instinct which the best fast bowlers need; and once again he got his man, with a snorting bouncer from round the wicket which Vengsarkar could only fend to gully. He also exacted his revenge on Gavaskar, bowling him in the second innings for the duck he should have got in the first.

As with Curtly Ambrose, nobody ever really got on top of Marshall and took him to the cleaners. There was a county game at Southampton in 1990, one of Viv Richards's first appearances for Glamorgan, when Richards anticipated Marshall's bouncers to hook him out of the ground. But this was a heavyweight contest not quite made in Heaven, as both xwere nearing the end of their international careers. When Marshall was in his prime, and they were both playing in the Shell Shield, Richards only ever made one century in Barbados for the Leeward Islands.

The first England saw of Marshall was in the back-to-back Test series of 1980 and 1980-81, as he did not feature in the 1979 World Cup after the WSC West Indians had returned. He could not always get a game: I mean, how do you push out one of Roberts, Holding, Garner and Croft when they all have several years of their Test careers to run?

Yet Marshall was so devastating in domestic cricket that he was chosen for the last Test of 1980-81 in Jamaica, instead of Roberts, who by comparison with the others - but only by comparison with the others - tended to play Graham Gooch and Geoff Boycott in, before Garner came on with his smouldering yorkers and Croft was so hostile that it's the only time I've seen England batsmen - not tailenders - back away to square leg. Marshall came in for the Kingston Test, his first among the Big Boys, and he certainly souped up the West Indian new-ball attack, which made Gooch's 153 out of 285 one of the finest attacking innings ever played for England. Then Marshall twanged something and broke down, so David Gower's 154 not out was a lesser achievement, if numerically superior.

In the course of the 1980s Marshall tempered his sprint to the crease. What he lost in pace, he more than gained in skill - he acquired the legcutter too for slow wickets - and in analysis of batsmen. For a while he combined the lot and was, I believe, the most dangerous bowler there has ever been, when he bowled his bouncers from round the wicket. He did it periodically, at a time when there was no limit of two bouncers per over, and it is surprising there was no lasting injury.

Marshall was always liable to skull batsmen, like Andy Lloyd in his only Test at Edgbaston in 1984, because his bouncer skidded rather than ballooned. And when he went round the wicket to right-handers, as he did at Vengsarkar in that MCC game, this was the ultimate form of attack as the batsman had nowhere to escape from a rocket up his left armpit. Umpires were too weak to call him for intimidatory bowling, and administrators too unsupportive towards umpires who did want to stick their necks out. Fortunately Marshall was too good a conventional bowler to resort to the ultimate deterrent more than occasionally.

Malcom Denzil Marshall

BornPine, Bridgetown, Barbados, April 18, 1958
DiedBridgetown, November 4, 1999
First-class debut Barbados v Jamaica, Bridgetown, 1977-78
Hampshire debut 1979
Natal debut 1992-93
HonoursSunday League 1986, Benson & Hedges Cup 1992 Castle Cup (South Africa) 1994-95 Shell Shield/Red Stripe Cup (WI) 1977-78, 1978-79, 1979-80, 1981-82, 1983-84, 1985-86, 1990-91
Test debut West Indies v India, Bangalore, 1978-79
ODI debut West Indies v England, Headingley, 1980

Test career

81 mathces, 1810 runs (18.85), 376 wickets (20.94)
Highest score92 v India, Kanpur, 1983-84
Best bowling (l)7-22 v England, Old Trafford, 1988

7-53 v England, Headingley, 1984

7-80 v New Zealand, Bridgetown, 1984-85
Best bowling (m)11-89 v India, Port-of-Spain, 1988-89

11-120 v New Zealand, Bridgetown, 1984-85

10-92 v England, Lord's, 1988

10-107 v Australia, Adelaide, 1984-85
ODI career136 matches, 955 runs (14.92), 157 wkts (26.96)
Highest score66 v Pakistan, Gujranwala, 1986-87
Best bowling4-18 v Australia, Melbourne, 1991-92

Test record against each country

v Australia19433519598722.525-4271
v England265790243612719.187-2261
v India17350716717621.996-3761
v New Zealand717357753621.537-8011
v Pakistan12221710355020.705-332-

First-class career

408 matches, 11004 runs (24.83), 7x100, 1651 wkts (19.10), 85 5-wkt/inns, 13 10-wkt/matches
Highest score120* Natal v Western Province, Durban, 1993-94
Best bowling8-71 Hants v Worcs, Southampton, 1982
Best seasons134 wickets (15.73) in 1982

100 wickets (15.08) in 1986

© Getty Images
Although England only lost 2-0 in their four-Test series in 1980-81, there was an enormous stink: off with the captain's head, in this case Ian Botham's, as he had led England in nine Tests against West Indies and lost three of them, not winning one! Gad, splutter, went those who did not appreciate the nature of the West Indian attack which was to reign supreme for the decade. But it gradually dawned that this team was a phenomenon apart, the best ever to play cricket day-in day-out; and Marshall was the leader of their pack.

In 15 Tests against England in 1984, 1985-86 and 1988, West Indies collected 14 victories, and the only time they missed out was at Trent Bridge in 1988, when Marshall broke down and Gooch cashed in on the absence of his nemesis to make a hundred. What Terry Alderman could do to Gooch at 75mph, Marshall could do 20mph faster, giving him outswingers and bouncers to force him back, followed by the inswinger to trap him half-forward. He bowled England out with his left arm in plaster at Headingley in 1984; he broke Mike Gatting's nose as he plunged gamely forwards with a helmet but no grille in the one-day international at Kingston in 1985-86.

The Test which followed at Sabina was Apocalypse Now: a broken pitch, and Marshall stirred by the introduction of Patrick Patterson to prove himself the fastest bowler alive. You would not believe the barrage which was put up by the pair of them from the George Headley Stand end, and unfortunately there is no television film to prove it. Gower squirted a semi-voluntary six over the slips; it was cricket at its most red-meat raw. Mike Atherton remembers Walsh's spell at him on the same ground in 1993-94 as the making of him as a Test batsman, but fierce as that spell was, it was a solo effort and mild milk by comparison with the total assault of Marshall and Patterson, Garner and Holding, determined to break England's spirit for the rest of their tour, and successfully so. Yet Dennis Waight, West Indies' Australian physio, believed the assault by Marshall and Garner on New Zealand in 1984-85, on another broken wicket at Sabina, was the most ferocious attack of all.

In the 1988 series in England, Marshall took 35 wickets at 12 each, before a gradual diminution of his powers led to his retirement from international cricket after he had lost his place towards the end of the 1992 World Cup. When he was finished as an international, he was still good enough to be the best bowler for Hampshire (Heaven knows how, with their batting and Marshall, they won only two one-day trophies in his time), and for Natal, when he was a winner again as he counselled a young team of allrounders including Shaun Pollock and Lance Klusener.

His work in domestic cricket was unstinting; and it was a cause of West Indies' fall from grace that so many players plied their trade in South African not West Indian domestic cricket - not so much the rebels of the'80s as later bowlers like Marshall and Ottis Gibson, Vasbert Drakes and Eldine Baptiste. But never mind the politics for now: Marshall gave his all for every team he played for as a bowler, and only eased up when he batted and could not bring the whole of his considerable talent to bear. He and Wasim Akram are the only two batsmen I've seen get out in Test cricket for lack of care.

And when Marshall became the West Indian coach, he was still good enough to bowl to his players in the nets - too good in fact, for he so probed and exposed the defences of the new generation that he was stopped from bowling against them and demoralising them off a few paces. He was still lethal, so astute was his brain and so quick his arm. I saw him once in a double-wicket competition, bowling off two paces, forcing his first-class opponent to defend, impossible to score off and a conclusive argument in himself against uncovered pitches. Those in favour assume that fast bowlers won't be able to operate on wet surfaces because the run-ups would be exposed to the rain as well. Marshall, however, needed a run-up of two paces to be awesome.

© Getty Images
His ending, like his beginning, was in Barbados. A motorcycle accident had deprived him of a father by the age of one; cancer of the colon deprived him of his own life, after a course of chemotherapy in England did not work. He had what amounted to a state funeral in Barbados, which was broadcast throughout the Caribbean. His end was almost as sudden as those of many of his opponents at the wicket. But in the All-Time XI of the greatest cricketers, there will be no-one to take the new ball ahead of him.

What Marshall's peers had to say

He was the complete fast bowler, in my opinion. He was a quick and skiddy bowler who could move the ball both ways. Off the field he was a very nice man, and everyone in cricket will miss him.

Mike Atherton

He was my fast-bowling idol. He picked the mistakes of batsmen straight away and spotted their weaknesses. He was a nice fellow off the field, but a fierce competitor on it.

Wasim Akram

It's scary that someone of my era in the game has gone. He had so much to offer - he was a great professional and a great guy as well.

Steve Waugh

He bounced me first ball, but if that was hardly surprising, what did alarm me was that I never saw it. My only acquaintance with the projectile was a hissing sound and a slight draught passing my nose. On a bright sunny day it was enough to bring more than the odd lingering doubt to the surface.

Derek Pringle, Independent cricket correspondent and former England seamer

He had a huge influence on my career. He was in a league of his own. He was very methodical and able to think batsmen out. He gave us confidence to think for ourselves.

Shaun Pollock, who was coached by Marshall at Natal

He was simply the most brilliant bowler of my time. Terribly awkward to play and very quick, always wonderfully aware and intelligent, always plotting and probing.

Graham Gooch, who played 21 Tests against Marshall between 1980 and 1991

He was the fastest man I've ever faced ... At his peak he could nominate opponents and the ball that would get them out. He very rarely failed.

Robin Smith, county colleague and Test opponent

The man was awesome.

Mike Selvey, Guardian cricket correspondent and former England seamer

His bowling was just very special. He had stamina, longevity and expertise and he was technically different with the way he held the ball. He was without doubt the quickest bowler of his time.

Greg Matthews, Australian spinner, who played Sydney club cricket with Marshall

He died at 5.30pm, which was somehow appropriate. It is the time when local cricket matches finish. It is as though the bails were pulled. It was a gracious exit from this world. It was peaceful serenity. I think that is the way I would want to go as well.

Gordon Greenidge, Barbados, Hampshire and West Indies team-mate

He simply became one of the best, if not the best, fast bowlers in the world. Initially, his run-up was long, rhythmic and fluid. As time, knowledge and experience accumulated, he learnt to use his shorter bustling run. The quick hand action remained, though, so the pace was almost always there. From Andy Roberts he learned guile and variety. From Joel Garner he took great determination and a never-say-die attitude. From me, he took aggression. Like his favourite player, Vivian Ricahrds, Malcolm wanted to win.

Colin Croft, one of Marshall's partners in West Indies' fearsome 1980s pace attack

He was a wonderful friend; to everyone he came into contact with. He always had time for everyone ... his spirit will live on at Hampshire.

Robin Smith

He was as good as they come. Throughout the 1980s he was the main man. He had a great ability not just to bowl quick but, what makes it worse for the batsman, the ability to do a lot with the ball.

David Gower, who faced Marshall in 15 Tests

We must assume that the great Maestro in the sky was short of a class allrounder.

Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie, former Hampshire captain

I am at a loss for words. I am deeply shocked at learning of his passing. It is very sad. He is someone I knew for a long time and whom I was very close to. I really need some time to think and get myself together.

Curtly Ambrose

He was a slippery customer. You never knew whether the ball would rise to your throat, or keep low to hit the stumps ... On a green pitch at Kanpur, Marshall hit Sunil [ Gavaskar] on the arm and the bat flew out of his hands. I thought `Wow'- I had never seen such a thing before.

Kapil Dev, former Indian allrounder and captain

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 homed 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.

Mark Nicholas, Marshall's captain at Hampshire, in his eulogy at the funeral

Malcolm was a brilliant fast bowler and an outstanding ambassador for the game of cricket.

Ali Bacher, South African Board supremo

Barbados and beyond is in complete shock. I was very close to him and I probably spent more time with him over the years, touring and playing, than I did with my own brothers. He was the king of fast bowlers.

Desmond Haynes, Barbados and West Indies team-mate

He was the most fearsome of opponents on the field, but off it, one of the nicest blokes you could meet. He was a genuinely nice man, certainly one of the best fast bowlers I ever faced and probably one of greatest of all time.

Alec Stewart

He was somebody who loved life and enjoyed life. He would have to be among the greatest fast bowlers I played with or against. He was always giving 100%, always trying something and giving a fight.

Joel Garner, Marshall's new-ball partner for Barbados

It hasn't stopped raining in Barbados since he died.

Desmond Haynes

He was a very intelligent cricketer and easily in the first three of the greatest fast bowlers of this century, if not the best - and definitely the best we [West Indies] have produced.

Sir Everton Weekes, West Indies batting legend

We have lost a great West Indian cricketer, outstanding coach, a superbly analytical critic mind and in my case a good friend. Malcolm set very high standards for himself and those around him, and at his peak was unquestionably the best fast bowler in the world - a position he retained for many years.

Pat Rousseau, West Indies Board president

Malcolm Marshall was the embodiment of a Bajan spirit that has been cherished for generations - hardworking, cheerful, and caring. That he was especially skilful at his craft and became the greatest Barbadian and West Indian fast bowler of all time, was no accident.

Editorial in Barbados's newspaper, The Nation

I always found him to be an intelligent man where cricket was concerned. I thought he would have made a better batsman than bowler but he proved me wrong.

Seymour Nurse, former West Indies batsman

A very sad day for cricket - we have lost someone who made a tremendous contribution to Barbados and West Indies... and he still had so much more to contribute as a coach.

David Holford, former West Indies allrounder

By Heaven, he could bowl quickly when he chose - Bobby Parks, our wicketkeeper, was 31 paces back one day at Portsmouth - and the skidding, screaming bouncer was the most chilling part of his armoury.

Mark Nicholas

Compiled from a variety of sources by Steven Lynch and Richard White.