Remembering Malcolm: a bowling wizard, a ‘giver’

Commentator Mark Nicholas recalls his memories of “best friend” Malcolm Marshall, the West Indian bowling great who died of cancer in 1999.

Malcolm Marshall: "A giver, never to be forgotten." Photo: The Hindu Archives

He arrived as a raw talent, became a world beater, made friends for life and then suddenly left them a void that they have never been able to fill.

That’s Malcolm Marshall in a summary.

Marshall is forever embedded in the soul of Hampshire cricket and in the memory of those who saw him run in from the ridge at the Old Northlands Road ground. The imposing new stadium which is off city limits became operational in the early 2000s and probably doesn’t give an idea of what the Bajan meant for the club for whom he took 1000 wickets in the County Championship.

“Malcolm and I were very close and it was wonderful. He was the best friend I had in cricket,” said Mark Nicholas, now a renowned commentator and once Marshall’s captain at Hampshire.

“Northlands Road was a very small and personal ground. It was a good ground for batsmen even though there was this little ridge (little hilltop) at one end. Malcolm would bowl into that ridge effectively,” he reminisced.

Nicholas, one of the respected voices in the game, continued: “When Malcolm Marshall arrived, you knew where he has come from. Barbados was a small island, people knew each other and were friendly. The cricketers certainly knew each other and valued each other. He blended very well and we adored him and he adored us.”

‘Splendidly naive’

Nicholas sported an indulgent smile as he termed a young Marshall “splendidly naive.”

“Once, it was damn cold in Derby in one of his first games. We had to go and buy him woollen socks and jumpers and trousers and all that. I think he quickly adapted to life here. He was keen to embrace living in Hampshire. He bought a house,” he said.

In a space of four to five years, Marshall became the best fast bowler of his time with every skill in his armoury. “He began by bowling sort of awesomely fast with a whippy action. He then developed his skills. Once he had perfected the outswinger, he moved to perfect the inswinger. By about 1984-85, he had about everything — stamina, pace, control, movement, fantastic bowling brain.

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“He had deep knowledge, almost frenzied in his investigations for opposition players, [which] he shared with us. He was the best ally that a captain could dream of. It’s always good for a skipper if the fast bowler is on your side,” Nicholas recollected.

So how much did Marshall make during his best days in county cricket? “May be GBP 20,000 or may be 25,000,” said Nicholas.

That’s an amount less than what an average Indian domestic cricketer earns these days after landing the lowest-base-price contract in the Indian Premier League. You raise that point to Nicholas and he laughs. “He obviously played more days of cricket than you play in the IPL, for sure.”

Viv vs Marshall

So how was the battle between Richards and Marshall at the county level? “I think Malcolm had the better of Viv when he was with Somerset. But at Glamorgan, I think Viv won some great battles. One I remember [I] was at the Northlands when he scored a hundred and 80-odd to win it for Glamorgan.”

But what Nicholas found endearing in Marshall was his ability to read people and care for them. “He was very thoughtful about other people. He was never loud or bombastic. He cared about people. He would often say to me if so and so is very quiet, he would tell me ‘have you thought about talking to [that person]’,” Nicholas said.

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Nicholas vividly remembers how Dr. Rudi Webster was massively worried [about] Marshall’s ill-health during the 1999 World Cup. At first, nothing could be detected. He was the West Indies coach during that World Cup. “He had earlier been checked out in the middle of the World Cup but they didn’t find anything untoward. Malcolm thought he had a tear in his intercostal muscle while bowling in the nets. Since they didn’t find any tear, they didn’t look for anything else.

‘A giver’

“Had they done some more tests at that stage, they could have cured it and by the time the cancer in the colon was detected, it was too late. He was gone in a relatively short time.”

Nicholas said: “I gave eulogy at his memorial service in Barbados and the outpouring was incredible. It didn’t matter where you looked, there was genuine shock at his passing.”

“He was a giver. Never to be forgotten,” concluded Nicholas.