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Stay strong, Rod

Great keeper, good mate, straight talker - that's just a few things the former Australia player has been

Ian Chappell
Ian Chappell
Rod Marsh with Shaun Marsh (no relation): the former Australia keeper has been a coach, administrator and more since he retired  •  Getty Images

Rod Marsh with Shaun Marsh (no relation): the former Australia keeper has been a coach, administrator and more since he retired  •  Getty Images

"Is Rod Marsh an epileptic?" The phone call came at about 11.30 am in Sydney.
It was former Queensland and Australian ODI player and now Bulls Masters boss Jimmy Maher. The answer was an emphatic no.
The next call was concerning. "Rodney has actually had an attack in the car," said Maher. "His heart stopped beating for several minutes before the hospital got it started again."
Seventy-four-year-old Marsh is the best Australian keeper I've seen and he has been a good mate since we played together in the 1970-71 Test side.
He covered more territory standing back than any keeper, and while this was a great asset, it could also be a source of frustration. When Tony Greig edged Gary Gilmour's awayswinger in the World Cup semi-final at Headingley in 1975, it was headed to my right.
It never reached me.
"Listen you fat bastard, catches on my right are mine," I told him during the celebration. That's one reason our friendship endured: we both made our points clearly.
I was once asked who was the better keeper, Marsh or Ian Healy. It was an easy answer: "Have a look at their hands."
Marsh's hands, despite years of collecting the ferociously fast Jeff Thomson and the extremely quick Dennis Lillee, are untarnished. If you look at that Headingley catch and then the diving leg-side one where he caught Clive Lloyd, you'll understand about the territory he covered standing back.
I awarded Marsh the dubious nickname of Iron Gloves during his Test debut at the Gabba. I'd just read about the poor-fielding Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Dick Stuart, who was nicknamed Iron Glove. It seemed like an appropriate name to anoint Marsh with - he dropped a couple in his first game. Years later, when Marsh claimed the world record for most dismissals by a keeper the laconic Doug Walters informed him: "Marshy, if you'd taken 'em all in your first Test, you would've claimed that record four games ago."
It was after Marsh's first Test that former Australian opener and renowned journalist Jack Fingleton approached me at Sydney airport. "What's this cove Marsh like?" he asked.
I replied, "He's a good bloke. He can bat, and don't worry about the first Test, he can keep," I answered. "Why do you ask?"
"Well," replied the fastidious Fingleton, "he just threw his suit carrier in the luggage rack on top of my deer-stalker. I told him, 'Marsh, my hat's under there,' Fingleton continued, "and he replied, 'It can only improve the hat.'"
I thought to myself that the debutant had a sense of humour, but I only said: "Jack, he's all right. You'll enjoy a game of golf with him."
We won that game of golf a few years later, thanks to Marsh's skill with the clubs.
Like all excellent teams, we had not only a very good wicketkeeper but a smart one.
Marsh thought that if you were the incumbent, you should improve by doing the job all the time. He improved a hell of a lot, especially against spin. He was naturally very good standing back. As captain, he let me know how the quicks were hitting his gloves, and he was never short of an idea. He also told me the truth and that helped me learn a lot about captaincy.
"You're an idiot," he told me, with an unprintable word before "idiot", between overs at Old Trafford in 1972. He reckoned it was a seamers' paradise and I had two spinners bowling. That warned me I was captaining like it was Adelaide Oval and I had to adjust my thinking to the ground we were actually playing on.
Following his playing days, we've stayed in touch. He enjoyed a very successful career as head coach at both the Australian and England academies and has been a selector for both countries, as well as chairman of the Australian panel. He was director of coaching at the ICC's Global Cricket Academy in Dubai, and has been an administrator as well.
Whatever the job, he has given it his all, and he told the truth. You always know where you stand with Rod.
He has a stalwart family in wife Ros, boys Paul, Daniel and Jamie and their wives and families. He's a widely admired character and I received numerous encouraging messages when Rod fell ill. Their gist was the same: "He's a tough bugger, he'll pull through."
I'm hoping so, because he was a first-class teammate and remains an excellent friend.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a columnist