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.
Devastated, we have lost a legend. Rod Marsh was a great player, a great coach and one of the best people I have ever met. My thoughts are with Ros, Paul, Dan and Jamie.
— Ricky Ponting AO (@RickyPonting) March 4, 2022
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.
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 great sadness I write this. To wake up & hear that Rod Marsh has left us, is horrible.
The time I had with him as my boss in Englands academy, was some of the best times in my career.
A caring, intelligent and loving man who did all he could to help everyone! #RIP
— Kevin Pietersen (@KP24) March 4, 2022
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.
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.
Very sad to wake up to the news that one of the great cricketers in the history of Australian and world cricket has passed away “Rod Marsh” our thoughts are with Ros and the family RIP Bacchus…….
— Ian Botham (@BeefyBotham) March 4, 2022
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.