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Rod Marsh an immense figure on and off the field


At the peak of his powers, Rod Marsh was the best wicketkeeper in the world. He was also a more-than-handy batter, a villain, a rebel, irreverent, insubordinate – and loved and admired as one half of an Australian cricket partnership of uncanny proportions.

Marsh, who died Friday aged 74, was also a coach, mentor and administrator who guided the game’s youth through national and international cricket academies.

Born in Armadale, Western Australia, on November 4, 1947, Rodney William Marsh had his introduction to cricket in the backyard of his family home, along with his elder brother, Graham, who went on to become a successful professional golfer.

The Marsh brothers represented their state in cricket at schoolboy level before pursuing their chosen sports. By the age of eight he was playing competitively with the Armadale under-16 side.

“I kept wicket right from the start, but batting was my main strength,” he recalled.

The balance between batting and keeping wicket eventually tipped in favour of the latter, although it was probably the former that ensured his selection in the Australian team for the first Test of the 1970-71 series against England at the Gabba.

His Sheffield Shield form for WA had put Marsh in contention for the wicketkeeper’s job after the retirement of Brian Taber, although Queensland’s John McLean also had selection claims.

Marsh got the job because he was considered the better batter and quickly rewarded the selectors’ faith with an innings of 44 in the drawn second Test and an unbeaten 92 in the fifth. Australia’s new keeper also justified his place behind the stumps holding 10 catches and making three stumpings for the series.
But it was a routine entry in the scorebook of the seventh, and final, Test of that series in Sydney that was to prove portentous. On the first morning, Dennis Lillee, who had made his debut for Australia in the previous Test in Adelaide, had English batsman John Hampshire caught behind the wicket.

As a result, a simple notation entered the scorebook and the Test cricket lexicon for the first time: c Marsh b Lillee. The same detail was to appear on Test match scorecards a further 94 times, its regularity prompting Marsh to explain an almost psychic relationship with Lillee.

“I’ve played with him so much now that most of the time I know what he is going to do before he has bowled. I know from the way he runs up; the angle, the speed, where he hits the crease, where the ball is going to be,” Marsh said.

The spiritual connection continued to the end with the pair who began their Test careers in the same 1970-71 series announcing their retirement during the same match against Pakistan in Sydney in 1984, Marsh finishing his career with a then world record 355 dismissals and Lillee with the same number of wickets, also then a world record.

Marsh began his Test career immediately following Australia’s 4-0 drubbing by South Africa in 1969-70 and was joined in the subsequent home series against England by fellow debutants Lillee and Greg Chappell, a triumvirate that was instrumental in Australia’s resurgence.

Little more than a year later, Australia drew the 1972 series in England 2-2 and then won all three Test matches against Pakistan in 1972-73 before a 2-0 away defeat of the West Indies and successive Ashes series wins over England.

Australia’s run ended in England in 1977, in a series played against a backdrop of rumblings about World Series Cricket. The home team’s 2-0 success heralded a tumultuous period in which Marsh, Lillee and Chappell, who been the cornerstone of success, were now leaders of the WSC defection.

With the disbanding of World Series Cricket the three returned in 1979-80 for home series against the West Indies and England, but hostility accompanied them. An on-again-off-again captaincy imbroglio involving Kim Hughes and Chappell was fuelled by Lillee’s view that Marsh should have been made captain, a belief with which the latter concurred.

Marsh never backed away from accusations he and Lillee disapproved of Hughes, insisting later it was a matter of his fellow West Australian not being ready for the job.

The names Marsh and Lillee were again mentioned on the same line when the pair bet, at 500-1, that England would come from a seemingly impossible position to win the third Test at Headingley in 1981. Marsh had £5 and Lillee £10 on their rivals who duly blasted their way to victory on the back of Ian Botham’s second innings of 149 not out.

On his retirement in 1984, Marsh had played in 96 Tests, taken a record 355 dismissals and scored 3633 runs with a top score of 132 at an average of 26.5. He was also the first Australian wicketkeeper to make a Test century, and played in the first one-day international, against England in Melbourne in 1971.

Marsh later headed the cricket academies of Australia and England, and was inaugural head of an ICC world coaching academy in Dubai. He also became Australian chairman of selectors.

Although a tough competitor and mentor, he was respected worldwide for his fairness and knowledge of the game.

His sportsmanship was exemplified when Greg Chappell directed his brother Trevor to bowl an underarm delivery against New Zealand in a one-day international in 1981 – Marsh shook his head in disapproval, trying to dissuade his captain.

“Respect,” said Marsh “is part of my non-negotiables.”

Marsh became a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1982 and was elected to the Sport Australia Hall Of Fame in 1985 and the Cricket Hall Of Fame in 2005.

Marsh leaves his wife Ros and sons Dan, who captained Tasmania to their first Sheffield Shield win, Paul, a former CEO of the Australian Cricketers’ Association, and Jamie.





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