Cricket: Marshall will live in memory as a giant of the game

West Indies laments loss of `king of fast bowlers' whose speed and skill claimed 376 Test wickets

MALCOLM MARSHALL only stood 5ft 10in in his socks, but in the world of fast bowling he was a colossus. His death yesterday from bowel cancer, at the age of 41, has not only robbed cricket of perhaps its greatest fast bowler, but one of its most enthusiastic performers. In a game undergoing troubled times, both in England and his beloved West Indies, Marshall's passing in Barbados will be a major blow to morale.

His record is phenomenal and in 81 Tests for the West Indies Marshall took 376 Test wickets; an average of 4.64 wickets per match. In a side that could usually call on three other bowlers capable of causing mayhem - Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh all played with him at various times during his career - it is an achievement that only Dennis Lillee comes close to. Indeed his average of 20.94 runs per Test wicket has yet to be bettered by any Test bowler with over 200 wickets.

Apart from playing for Barbados, he also had a lengthy career with Hampshire that spanned 11 seasons, though it was nearly cut short after just one match when it snowed on his debut against Glamorgan in 1979. By all accounts, a miserable Marshall wanted to return home to the warm with immediate effect. In the end he countered the chill by wearing so many sweaters he resembled the Michelin Man, an impression not shared by his opponents after he took nine wickets in the match. Fifteen years later, he had added another 814, including 133 wickets from 22 matches in the 1982 season, the latter a record unlikely ever to be surpassed.

Figures, however impressive, do not reveal the man nor the reality of facing him in his prime when he regularly broke the 90mph mark. For one thing his stamina was legendary and he once bowled all morning against Essex at Southend, before tearing in after lunch as well. This was 1983, when he was bowling at his fastest, a fact confirmed when he flattened Graham Gooch's off-stump.

As a bowler, a sight like that would normally have been something to savour except that I was next in. He bounced me first ball, but if that was hardly surprising, what did alarm me was that I never saw it. Indeed 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.

During the 1980s, Marshall reigned supreme. A superb athlete, his combination of searing pace, dripping accuracy and the ability to swing the ball both ways made for a lethal combination.

He rarely needed them all at once, usually tailoring his skills to the conditions present on the day. Batting, long held to be a batsman's game, suddenly became anything but when Marshall steamed in. Sure, he worked batsmen out, but he could work them over, too.

Although facing Marshall, known universally in cricketing circles as Macko, was a hazardous business, it could also be an exhilarating and satisfying one. Gooch, who, along with Allan Border, was the batsman to cope best with the West Indies in their pomp, saw facing Marshall as the ultimate challenge and their ding-dong battles in the middle went beyond theatre into something more vital and memorable.

At Headingley in 1991, Marshall threw everything he knew into dismissing Gooch, who, by remaining unbeaten on 154, set up a rare victory for England. Afterwards Marshall, as generous as ever, claimed it was one of the greatest innings he had ever seen.

If he scared most opponents witless - Essex were always high on his hit-list - he inspired great loyalty in his team-mates. Once while with Hampshire he was racially abused by some rugby players in the team's hotel. If Marshall saw the folly of taking on three hulking drunks, it did not dissuade Robin Smith, who knocked the ringleader cold and broke a finger, which caused him to miss several matches.

His closest friend was his fellow Barbadian Desmond Haynes, who roomed with him throughout his 14 years as a Test player. A formidable opening bat, Haynes was by his bedside when he passed away.

"It hasn't stopped raining since Macko died," said Haynes yesterday from Bridgetown. "Barbados and beyond is in complete shock. I was very close to him and I probably spent more time with him over the years, what with touring and playing, than I did with my own brothers.

"To my mind he was the king of fast bowlers, and he would plan and plot for hours how he would get them out. On the field he would often predict their demise to within a few balls. Just a few days before he died I was around his house watching videos of an old England-West Indies series in the Caribbean. Watching the batsmen hop about brought a smile to his face."

Before his death, Marshall had gone into coaching and had been in charge of the West Indies team when he was diagnosed with cancer during the recent World Cup. If the prognosis was never rosy, he had recovered enough by September to marry his long-time girlfriend Connie, with whom he had a son, Mali.

Speaking just before his retirement from playing cricket in 1993, Marshall explained what it was that had taken hold ever since his grandfather had introduced him to the game as a youngster.

"Cricket has been my life since I could stand upright and hold a cricket bat, or at least our home-made apology for one. I played morning, noon and night every day of my life. Not even school could get in the way of my obsession. There was no question of playing football or anything else for very long. It was cricket, cricket and more cricket."

If it was his creed then, it is a fitting epitaph now and one that will make cricketers everywhere feel distinctly more mortal when they read it.

M D MARSHALL

Born: 18 April 1958 in Bridgetown, Barbados

Died: 4 November 1999, Bridgetown, Barbados

Major teams: West Indies, Hampshire, Barbados, Natal

Bowling style: Right-arm fast

First-class debut: Barbados v Jamaica, Bridge town, 1977-78

Test debut: West Indies v India, Bangalore, second Test, 1978-79

Last Test: West Indies v England, The Oval, fifth Test, 1991

TEST RECORD: Matches 81. Overs: 2930.4. Maidens: 613. Runs: 7876. Wickets: 376. Average: 20.94. Best figures: 7-22 v England, Old Trafford, 1988. Five-wicket innings: 22. 10-wicket matches: 4. Strike rate: 46.7

ONE-DAY INTERNATIONALS: 1195.5. Maidens: 122. Runs: 4233. Wickets: 157. Average: 26.96. Best figures: 4-18. Strike rate: 45.7

COUNTY HIGHLIGHT: Nine wickets in debut match for Hampshire v Glamorgan 1979

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