Wednesday, April 11, 2007
SPORTIN' LIFE: Gideon Haigh: On Roy Marshall
Roy Marshall felt that cricket contained two kinds of madman: the fast bowler, because he expended his energies so wildly and thriftlessly; but also the opening batsman, for it required another species of lunacy to deal with madmen of one's own volition.
As an opening batsman, and one of the most spectacular of his generation, Marshall knew whereof he spoke. In his own case, he confessed, he did not like opening, was worried by extreme pace, and often exceptionally nervous. But the alternative was worse. 'I am not ashamed to say that there have been many occasions in my life when I have been frightened as I went out to face a fast bowler for the first time in a match,' he confessed. 'The plain truth is that I just cannot bear hanging round.'
Few cricketers have been so honest. Maurice Leyland allowed that 'no one liked fast bowling, but some show it more than others'. But, generally, fear is not something batsmen own to. Marshall, too, was a visible worrier before batting. If bowling of truly speedy repute was in the offing - and his years as the hope of Hampshire took in Tyson, Trueman, Statham, Loader, Snow and Ward - Marshall would fall quiet in the dressing room. He would tense up. He would dislike being spoken to. He would fiddle with his thick glasses, without which he stumbled round blindly. He was disturbed by Trueman's propensity for visiting the opposition dressing room before games. 'Why doesn't he get the hell out of here?' Marshall would think. 'What right has he got to come in here cracking jokes at this moment when in a few minutes' time he'll be trying to knock my head off?'
All of which makes his cricket the more remarkable. For, in the middle, Marshall hurled himself at the bowling with an almost vindictive fury. No county cricketer of the 1950s and 1960s drove more lavishly, or cut more fiercely: standing in the gully to Marshall was not for the faint of heart, and most learned to stand some yards deeper than usual. His eye was as good as his nerve. 'All right,' Frank Tyson announced in the middle of an over one day. 'Let's have all the fielders out and we'll play baseball.'
Marshall would have been remarkable anyway. A scion of the Barbados plantocracy, he toured England and Australia with West Indian teams of the early 1950s without immediately looking the part. About this, again, he was acutely honest: 'Being a white West Indian myself, the son of a planter and living a fairly sheltered life, I suppose I did grow up with slight racialist feelings. It was never anything that was said or done but just that I was brought up in a white man's world and white men, at the time, probably ruled the day-to-day life in Barbados.'
Ironically, Frank Worrell became his idol and also one of his staunchest admirers, while Marshall made an enemy of white Jeff Stollmeyer, whose Trinidadian faction with Gerry Gomez dispossessed John Goddard on the 1951-52 tour of Australia. It was in youthful disillusionment with inter-island jealousies that, having already represented Lowerhouse in the Lancashire League, he took the county shilling, thereby foresaking international cricket - a choice and a sacrifice that today seems altogether bizarre, but was made by scores of players at the time, mainly Australians like Somerset's Bill Alley and Nottinghamshire's Bruce Dooland, but also South Africans like Syd O'Linn and Stuart Leary at Kent, and West Indians including Ron Headley at Worcestershire and Shirley Griffiths at Warwickshire.
Marshall's success was more or less instantaneous. His first game, against the 1953 Australians, he belted 71 in 85 minutes including five sixes. His first full season contained 2115 runs; at his peak, he surged past 2000 in five consecutive years. Worrell twice implored him to return to Test cricket to partner Conrad Hunte. There was nothing doing: 'I had a duty to Hampshire who had shown faith in me in the first place.' For if his batting sometimes smacked of carelessness, Marshall was anything but casual; he could even be a bit of a prig. For example, he heartily disapproved of sledging, of which he found a startling amount to complain, even in what is usually regarded as a period of prelapsarian innocence. 'I think the thing that shocked me more than anything else was the amount of swearing I heard on the field,' he recalled of his first season. 'I've learned to ignore the language hurled about but don't let anyone fool you that cricket is always a gentlemanly pursuit.' He once rounded on the famously salty Wilf Wooller, who had been cursing him from short leg: 'For a Test selector, I think your behaviour is absolutely disgraceful.' Even Wooller was momentarily lost for words.
While he had left West Indian cricket, Marshall found that county cricket had its own form of exclusion: the distinction between amateurs and professionals which Marshall thought 'totally wrong'. Unapologetically, outspokenly professional, Marshall declared: 'If someone is ill, he does not call for an amateur physician to attend him. If someone needs legal advice, he doesn't seek out the barrack room lawyers.' He was especially irked at Hampshire by 'amateur players coming along in the summer holidays and wanting a game', who were 'often found a place in the side, although they did not possess half the talent of the professional player they displaced'. Marshall was such a pro, in fact, that one season when he found himself in line for the 100-pound Lawrence Trophy, presented to the compiler of the season's fastest hundred, he paid 25 pounds to buy an insurance policy against a faster century: no gay blade, this.
Then there was that batting. If fear was in the mix when he faced pace bowling, it never showed; 'indeed,' noted John Arlott, 'at times he seemed positively to enjoy it'. At Canterbury in August 1957, Marshall top-edged Kent's hard-working swing bowler Fred Ridgway into his face, shattering his glasses and opening a wound under his eye requiring six stitches. Hampshire's next fixture was on their own very fast Portsmouth wicket, against Surrey's extremely rapid Peter Loader, whose action was of dubious purity. Marshall's captain Desmond Eagar offered him the game off; Marshall would not hear of it. Loader bounced him to hell and back, at one stage striking him a glancing blow on the temple just inches from his stitches. Nonetheless, Marshall made 56 out of 120 then 111 out of 230 in a masterful display. 'No finer display of batting,' wrote Eagar, 'has been seen in Hampshire since the war.'
When Eagar's successor Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie staked money on his Hampshire team to win the 1961 Championship, he was influenced by one man alone. It was Marshall's benefit year: that would surely imbue him with that 'extra little killer instinct'. His 2607 runs were crucial; his opening partnerships with Jimmy Gray as decisive as they were often imbalanced. Of the 155 they added against Somerset, for instance, Gray contributed 38. Marshall was finally dismissed for 212 with the score at 317.
Marshall bowed out of the game with little evidence of decline. If anything, his attacking style was more refreshing than ever. On day one at Derby in August 1972, he made 203 at Derby in August 1972 contained twenty-nine fours and two sixes; on day three, the hosts batted 136 overs, 65 of them maidens. Marshall also left a residue of rare candour. Batting against fast bowling, he reminded us, is a physical challenge and a mental test. To feel fear and overcome it is no small thing; bravery without fear is simply insensate, automatic, a form of miscalculation in extremis. Marshall may have been right to view a taste for opening the batting as a kind of madness - but it is surely the very finest kind.