June 2005 June 6, 2005

Roy of the racers

Hampshire's West Indian was a batsman in a hurry and a cleft stick of nationality

Hampshire's West Indian was a batsman in a hurry and a cleft stick of nationality. As a result he plundered county runs as none other in his time while Jimmy Gray, his opening partner, watched in wonder

© Cricinfo
August 21, 1963. At The Oval England and West Indies assembled the day before the final Test and the talk in both teams was of frailty at the top of the order. West Indies were trying a third partner for Conrad Hunte while a desperate England toyed with the unlikely idea of sending Fred Titmus in first.

Meanwhile, on a wet wicket at Southampton, the Hampshire opener Roy Marshall was blazing his fifth century of the summer, with six sixes and 16 fours. A sugar planter's son from Barbados, he had settled in England 10 years earlier and become county cricket's most prolific run-scorer, the only batsman to hit more than 14,000 county runs over the last seven summers.

But, though he had been sounded out by both Walter Robins, England's chairman of selectors, and Frank Worrell, West Indies' captain, he could not play for either side at The Oval. His four Tests for West Indies in 1951-52 made him ineligible for England and a West Indies appearance would end his qualification for Hampshire.

"He could have played 60 Tests," Jimmy Gray, his Hampshire opening partner, reckons. "He wasn't up with Worrell and Weekes, they were very special, but he was as good as Walcott. He was certainly way above the England openers of that time."

He batted bare-headed, with thick glasses, a slim figure who stood upright and used his strong wrists to hit the ball hard. He drove through the covers, he lofted over the bowler's head and so powerful was his flashing cut that he even hit sixes with it. "We played Somerset," Gray remembers, "and Bill Alley and he were drinking in the evening. `I'll get you out, Marshall,' Bill said, and the next day he bowled with a gully, two more gullies half way back and one right on the boundary. Roy still whacked it through them." Gray was a good enough bat to top 2,000 runs three times but, when he and Marshall put on 120 in 66 minutes against Kent in 1957, his share was 15. "I had a problem in my first year with Roy. I used to bat according to the scoreboard. When we'd got to 50 or 60, I'd start to open up. But Roy would go off so fast that I'd be playing loose when I'd only got about 10, before I'd got myself in."

Marshall was not a typical county opener. "Most teams would have batted Roy at No. 4 but he could never wait, he had to go in first. And it was a great success for us. After the first year you had experienced bowlers, taking the new ball, who really didn't want to bowl at him."

Nor was he an orthodox thinker. "County cricket was a routine and, when he first came, he queried everything. `Why have we got that man there? ... Why isn't he bowling round the wicket?' He made us rethink our cricket. Then Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie came into the side and he absorbed all his ideas."

In 1961 Ingleby-Mackenzie led them to the county's first Championship, famously quipping that he liked his team in bed by breakfast. "We were playing at The Oval," Gray recalls, "and there was a party on the second night. I got in about half past three and Roy, I don't think he ever did come in. But one of his great abilities was to have a lot to drink and never be drunk. My powers of recovery were terrible but he'd sit down in the morning and eat egg and bacon." Surrey set them 308 to win and Gray was soon back in the pavilion. "But Roy, he smashed them all over the field and we won with an hour to spare."

In an age of uncovered pitches Marshall scored 35,725 runs, with 68 centuries. "But you can't measure him in figures," Gray says. "He won so many matches. And I suspect he got more runs against the better bowlers. He could be a bit sloppy against the ones he didn't rate. Then he'd sit in the dressing room. `Fancy getting out to him,' he'd say."

He was a West Indian; he had grown up in a hot climate. "I played squash with him and he wasn't keen on too much movement. He just stood there with those rapier wrists and made me do all the running. And if you batted with Roy, you were never sprinting ones. He went on a Cavaliers tour to Jamaica with Peter Richardson. Peter was all application and push and, with Roy at the other end, he couldn't get any runs. So they got into an argument. `I'm not rushing up and down with you,' Roy said. `You want to learn to hit the ball.'"

Jimmy Gray hit 22,650 runs, with 30 centuries. But how many more runs could he have scored with a more athletic partner? "I don't look at it like that," he says. "Roy was a lovely batsman to watch and I had the best seat in the ground. It was such a waste that he didn't play more Test cricket."