Malcolm Marshall hits the ball one-handed
© PA Photos
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He'll get you one-handed

At Headingley in 1984, Malcolm Marshall summed up the fierce and terrible beauty of one of the greatest teams of them all

Simon Barnes

The most terrible thing I ever saw on a cricket field took place during the interval between innings. It involved a series of physical jerks. It was the perfect vignette of one of the greatest teams of all time. Just the sight of a player warming up was more than the England team could take.

The place was Headingley, the year 1984, the opponents West Indies. England were doing okay. Certainly they were in the match despite being 2-0 down in the series. They made 270, and West Indies were making heavy weather against an inspired Paul Allott, who took 6 for 61.

But even that wasn't the best news for England. Malcom Marshall was injured. He broke his thumb in two places while fielding in the gully, going after a shot from Chris Broad, and was told not to think about cricket for ten days. Thus at one stroke, the great terror of the world had been taken out of England's way. Lord, how they must have toasted Broad in the dressing room.

The West Indian reply was kept on track thanks to the calmness of Larry Gomes, who was on 96 when the ninth wicket fell. Tough luck, that's cricket, old boy. But lo, who was this coming down to bat? It was Marshall with his arm in plaster, unable to grip a bat with his left hand. He batted one-handed, gave Gomes the support he needed to make his hundred, and hit a four himself with an inside-out forehand down the line.

And that was all very diverting, but this was serious cricket and England were preparing to bat against a four-man pace attack reduced to three. And best of all, the missing man was the most frightening of the lot. England prepared to bat with hearts measurably lighter than they had been all summer.

Then they looked out of the window.

Marshall was the finest exploiter of fear that cricket has ever known, but he was also a cricketer who used his head and a wide range of skills

This was a West Indies team that prided itself on professionalism and preparation. They were outstandingly fit, all of them. But they didn't normally make a parade of it. They just got on with the job. On this occasion, they adopted a different policy.

They came onto the field to do their physical jerks right in front of the England dressing room. And among them - conspicuous because of the white cast on his non-bowling arm - was Marshall. The England batsmen were certainly prepared to face Marshall under normal circumstances. True, Marshall had ended the international career of poor Andy Lloyd in the first Test, when Lloyd ducked into a non-bouncer. But facing Marshall was a challenge they were all - with different degrees of eagerness - ready to take on.

So to be let off was a very wonderful thing. But to be let off and then to have the reprieve cancelled - that was an experience not a million miles from horror.

I was there on that Saturday evening. There was just a short time to bowl and then a rest day - remember them? - to follow, so Marshall rather slipped himself. There were objections from the batsmen. They said he shouldn't bowl because the white cast of that flashing left arm was unfairly distracting. So Marshall covered it with Elastoplast and bowled on.

He wrecked the England batting that night, taking three wickets with his speed and with the terror of his name. On Monday he came back, adapted to changed conditions and throttled back to exploit the swing. He finished with 7 for 53; England were bowled out for 159 and West Indies easily knocked off the deficit.

Three on day three: Marshall gets Allan Lamb lbw

Three on day three: Marshall gets Allan Lamb lbw © PA Photos

And all this was dramatic enough, but it was really about that incomparable West Indies team of the 1980s, and the greatness of the finest bowler of them all. He was the finest exploiter of fear that cricket has ever known, but as he showed on that Monday, he was also a cricketer who used his head and a wide range of skills.

Intelligence and skill weren't adjectives much used by the old-school cricket writers of the time, not when applied to West Indies. If you admired them they were a force of nature, if you had reservations they were the dark destroyers of the game we love - i.e. they didn't let white teams win.

That moment at Headingley summed up the fierce and terrible beauty of that West Indian team, and the way they had the best batsmen in the world running scared. There were a thousand ramifications of all this, to do with politics and race and Empire, and all of them profoundly relevant.

But as I look back on that day, I remember also a sense of mischief. A delight in messing with the heads of their opponents. And was conscious of a sense of profound privilege. Here was genuine sporting excellence. If I was picking a cricket team and had a choice of everyone who ever played, Marshall would be the first name on my list. Not least because I wouldn't want my boys to have to face him. Even with one arm.

Simon Barnes is a former chief sportswriter of the Times and the author of more than 20 books

 

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  • POSTED BY CHRISTianman1 on | November 18, 2015, 18:23 GMT

    My fellow countryman, Malcolm Denzil Marshall was indeed the best fast bowler the good Lord ever made. Clever, intelligent, smarts whatever you wish to term it, may be applied to this late Windies great. I once saw him bowl an over to the Indian middle order man Ravi Shastri at our beloved home ground, Kensington Oval and each ball was different! I saw him hit the Pakistani 'keeper Saleem Yousef on his nose also at KO. Yousef, clearly shaken, complained to captain Viv Richards fielding in the slips. Richards told him basically to cease complaining like a child and go back to the crease and bat. But it wasn't all venom with Maco. It was deadly guile too. The man was simply both lethal and brilliant with a cricket ball in his grip. Gone too soon. We love our Maco in Bim (Barbados).

  • POSTED BY Awad_Ali on | November 13, 2015, 19:38 GMT

    'Five West Indian captains were among the pall bearers' (Wisden obituary). Still brings a lump to my throat.

    Greatest fast bowler of all time.

  • POSTED BY K_Doc on | November 13, 2015, 14:16 GMT

    Great article Simon ! I remember this match vividly, as a little boy in Guyana, listening via Transistor radio. I was amazed and worried if Marshall was going to be hit on his injured hand, but he seem to have no fear. As you said, he is a great thinker of the game, and in the prime of his physical abilities, he exploited them all to his and team benefit.

  • POSTED BY TestCricketSupreme on | November 13, 2015, 6:30 GMT

    Maco was the greatest bowler I have ever seen in watching 50 years of cricket. Lillee, Proctor, Warne, Imran, Wasim, Hadlee, Abdul Qadir, Bedi, Walsh, Ambrose, Thommo at his most terrifying - they all paled to Marshall.

  • POSTED BY IndianInnerEdge on | November 12, 2015, 20:49 GMT

    Wow, nice article - yep -do remember the forehand down the line and then macko bowling with the plast on...he wsa scary....and what a awesome ploy by the windies to do th physicals in front of the opposition, talk of psyching them out. that team of 1980's-mid 80's-windies was aweome, just flowing with natural talent , you could just make an XI with the players who didn't regularly figure in the team.....pity about the windies of today, cricket needs a strong windies.....hope somehow they bounce back.....

  • POSTED BY adventureguy on | November 12, 2015, 18:33 GMT

    WI team of the 80s cannot be compared any team in the world to date. Their cavalier attitude to batting and bowling brought them accolades from fans world over. Marshall had all the necessary qualities of a fast bowler. He was quick and swung the ball bothways and he had the never sa die attitude which made him the greatest of all widies fast bowlers. It's unfortunate he's no more with us to share his memories of his experience on the cricket field.

  • POSTED BY liz1558 on | November 12, 2015, 15:26 GMT

    Probably the scariest of the WI quicks .1984 was a sombre summer of cricket for England and utterly humiliating. It was the callow nature of English character on the pitch that made it worse. Only Graham Gooch of English players of the era wasn't cowed by the WI fast bowlers, and he was banned. 5-0...Don't remember anything beautiful about it.

  • POSTED BY brusselslion on | November 12, 2015, 14:05 GMT

    Marshall was certainly a fine bowler; my own favourite of the WI 4 was Holding. Has there ever been a bowler with a more aesthetically pleasing run-up? One thing is almost certain, there will never be a time when so many world class fast bowlers are produced by one nation. Clarke, Daniel and Pattenson couldn't even get into the side; all three would walk into any Test team today.

  • POSTED BY EdwinD on | November 12, 2015, 13:37 GMT

    This was actually a three-pronged attack - Eldine Baptiste was a medium-pacer - but was rarely required.

  • POSTED BY gujratwalla on | November 12, 2015, 13:30 GMT

    I clearly remember the West Indian teams of the late sixties onwards .They had the greatest batsmen and at various times the greatest fast bowlers of all tme.Plus in Lance Gibbs a wonderful spin bowler who never got the attention due to him.Having lived in that British environment of that period i sensed that the West Indian wanted to be recognized on equal terms with others; that he is not illiterate and backward and posses a mind just as brilliant and efficent as the White Race.The British and Australians were reluctant to aacept that, always assuming that though the Carib has vast natural talent he is unable to use it wisely and method it to exploit it properly.In other words a happy go lucky sort of cricketer who play for fun.So come Frank Worrel and Garfield St Auburn Sobers, thinking men both and great cricketers to the boot, and they passed the legacy to Clive Llyod who was sharper and conclusive in all aspects of the game as were Marshall ,Roberts,Garner and Holding.

  • POSTED BY TheCricketEmpireStrikesBack on | November 12, 2015, 13:19 GMT

    "Fierce and terrible", indeed. And the WI fast bowling terror didn't just start or end with Malcolm Marshall, either. To think that some fans and commentators today find the odd angry, word between players too much to stomach. Current times are certainly more delicate.

  • POSTED BY Gopez on | November 12, 2015, 12:02 GMT

    Greatest bowler and 1st palayer in my team

  • POSTED BY not_that_andrewhall on | November 12, 2015, 11:29 GMT

    I spent many happy evenings and Sunday afternoons at the County Ground in Southampton in the early 80s, and was lucky enough to see a lot of Malcolm Marshall. What a brilliant cricketer. Always thinking, planning, executing. What a luxury for Mark Nicholas to be able to throw him the ball! Completely agree with Simon - he would be first on my all-time team list.

  • POSTED BY vatsap on | November 2, 2015, 8:21 GMT

    How many ever one reads about this particular episode, always brings a smile. WE got possibly 30-45 seconds snippets of this episode in the National news in India in 1984. Marshall descending the steps, taking a swipe and edged four through slips, getting out (don't remember HA Gomes's century shot) and then the wickets he took that day. Lovely.