The English cricket team came to play Australia in late 1974. History will recall how Australia’s battery of fast bowlers and an array of batters, both classical and pugnacious, crushed the English resistance to the tune of four matches to one.
Somewhere in a lounge room in suburban Sydney, an eight-year-old English boy was watching cricket on the television. As Australia fell to 126 for five in Melbourne, that boy remarked to his grandfather that all the top-line batters were gone and that the end must be near.
“Not yet son”, replied that wise old grandfather.
“Bloody Marsh is still in.”
Rodney Marsh was farewelled at a service at the Adelaide Oval today after he passed away earlier this month after a heart attack at the all-too-young age of 74. Robbing Australia and the world of one of its finest wicketkeepers, and one of the pioneers of the modern trend of the keeper-batters that is so prevalent in today’s cricket.
He was, however, so much more than that.
He may have scored 3,633 runs for Australia, more than any other wicketkeeper that came before him. He may have effected 355 dismissals, at the time of his retirement a record that was to stand for another fourteen years before being broken by fellow Australian Ian Healy.
All of this is special, but Marsh’s greatest gift to the game of cricket was the way that he approached the game, both on the field and also after his playing days were over.
For whilst Marsh may have played plenty of his cricket in the days of the so-called “ugly Australian”, and whilst he played the game as hard as anyone on the international stage, there was much to do with the respect that he showed the game and its players that was anything but ugly.
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The Centenary Test Match in Melbourne in March 1977 will live long in the memory of all who witnessed a celebration of all that was good in the game.
A low-scoring first inning gave way to a commanding Australian batting performance which set an English target of 463 to win in the final day and a half, a task that looked far beyond a side that capitulated for 95 in their first attempt.
Paramount to this target was one Rodney Marsh, who cut, hooked, and straight drove with all the audacity and belligerence for which his batting was known for an unbeaten 110. However, it is another aspect of this match for which I will remember Marsh.
England’s reply was framed around a courageous, commanding 174 from Derek Randall. However, once he had reached 161 with only 141 runs still needed by England with six wickets in hand, Randall edged Greg Chappell and Marsh took a brilliant low catch, or so everyone thought.
While the Australians celebrated, Marsh was quick to claim that the ball had not carried through to him, and a catch had not been taken. This almost unprecedented act of sportsmanship typified the man; a gnarled, hard-bitten competitor to the last, but if a game was to be won, it was to be won fairly.
This spirit and attitude also shone through on February 1, 1981; one of international cricket’s darkest days. With New Zealand requiring six runs from the last ball to win a one-day international series final, Greg Chappell instructed his brother Trevor to bowl the ball underarm to ensure an Australian victory. Whilst the tactic was, at that time, not contrary to any of the game’s Laws, it certainly was contrary to its spirit.
Some in Australian uniforms that early Autumn evening was in favour of the act. Others were shocked at what was taking place. Rod Marsh’s was the dissenting voice, visibly shaking his head and saying, “don’t do it mate”.
No one listened, to the detriment of both the players and the game.
After his retirement in early 1984, Rod Marsh took the helm at the Australian Cricket Academy. Here he oversaw the early development of many players that we now consider greats of Australian cricket. Some of those, Ricky Ponting and Glenn McGrath, for example, were to go on to boast records amongst the finest that all Test cricket has seen.
In 2002, he became a director of the newly-formed National Academy in England. Wrestling with the decision to take his talents to the shores of the old enemy but opining that the good of the game outweighed any nationalistic concerns, Marsh threw himself into the task with all the gusto that had typified any of his previous endeavours.
He went on to also take the role of English national selector, in doing so playing a vital role in England winning back the Ashes in 2005 for the first time in eighteen years.
Rod Marsh suffered a heart attack en route to a charity event, giving back to the game he loved and the community as he had done so often in the past.
He is survived by a wife and three sons, all of whom are indebted to his influence. He may have been seen as “bloody Marsh” in 1974, but will forever be known as a friend to Australian and English cricket, and the game as a whole.
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